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Treatable Infections Caused One In Six Cancer Cases

May 9th, 2012

treatable infectionsA recent study shows that one in six of all cancer cases started out as preventable or treatable infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Each year, these infections cause about two million cancer cases worldwide resulting to 1.5 million deaths.

“Infections with certain viruses, bacteria, and parasites are one of the biggest and preventable causes of cancer worldwide,” said Catherine de Martel and Martyn Plummer of the International Agency for Research on Cancer in France. “Application of existing public-health methods for infection prevention, such as vaccination, safer injection practice, or antimicrobial treatments, could have a substantial effect on future burden of cancer worldwide,” they added.

The researchers used cancer-related data relating to 27 types of cancer from 184 countries. They found that about 16 percent of all cancer cases in 2008 were caused by infections. Not surprisingly, as much as 80 percent of these cases can be found in the developing world.

The percentage of infection-related cancers are varied greatly between regions, from 7.4 percent in the UK to 22.9 percent in East Asia. Almost a third of these cases are found in people 50 years and younger.

“Many infection-related cancers are preventable, particularly those associated with human papillomaviruses (HPV), Helicobacter pylori, and hepatitis B (HBV) and C viruses (HCV),” Dr. de Martel said.

Both liver and gastric cancers combined for more than 80 percent of all infection-related cancer cases in men, while in women, cervical cancer tops the list with nearly half of all cases.

“The 2011 UN high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases highlighted the growing global agenda for prevention and control of non-communicable diseases,” Dr. de Martel said. “But although cancer is considered a major non-communicable disease, a sizable proportion of its causation is infectious and simple non-communicable disease paradigms will not be sufficient,” she added.

“Their estimates show the potential for preventive and therapeutic programs in less developed countries to significantly reduce the global burden of cancer and the vast disparities across regions and countries,” according to Goodarz Danaei of the Harvard School of Public Medicine in Boston. “Since effective and relatively low-cost vaccines for HPV and HBV are available, increasing coverage should be a priority for health systems in high-burden countries,” he added.

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