One in Six Cancers Are Caused By Treatable Infections

Cancer is a scourge on our society and, while scientists continue to work on treatments, many people view it as an inevitable truth. New research, however, suggests that as many as one in six cases of cancer are a result of infections—which are either preventable or treatable.

A report to be published in Lancet Oncology suggests that, of the 7.5 million deaths from cancer worldwide in 2008, an estimated 1.5 million were due to potentially preventable or treatable infections. Catherine de Martel, one of the researchers behind the study, explains:

"Infections with certain viruses, bacteria, and parasites are one of the biggest and preventable causes of cancer worldwide…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."

The research, carried out at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, studied international data for 27 cancers in 184 countries in order to identify the factors which contribute to the development of the diseases. The results suggest that 16 percent of all cancers are a result of infections, and of that sub-set 80 percent occur in less developed regions.

The researchers point to infections such as human papillomaviruses (HPV), Helicobacter pylori, and hepatitis B and C as the main culprits behind the onset of cancer—the four of which mainly lead to gastric, liver, and cervical cancers.

While those infections themselves aren't necessarily straightforward to prevent or treat, targeting the cause rather than tackling the fall-out is always, always preferable—and that's what we need to do. [Lancet Oncology]

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