1 In 6 Cancers Could Be Prevented
May 10, 2012

1 In 6 Cancers Could Be Prevented

New research shines some light on a potential point of weakness in the fight against cancer: One in six are caused by treatable or preventable infections. These new estimates say nearly 2 million cases globally could have been prevented if the infections had been stopped sooner.

Publishing the findings in Lancet Oncology, the researchers who conducted the review looked at incidence rates for 27 cancers in more than 180 countries. According to their findings, there are 4 main infections which can transition into cancer.

These four infections, human papillomaviruses (HPV), Helicobacter pylori and hepatitis B and C viruses, which account for nearly 2 million cases of cervical, liver and stomach cancers.

Furthermore, the study found most of these infections-turned-cancer cases have occurred in the developing world.

The team from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in France say these findings should encourage health officials to attack these avoidable cases and spread the word that cancer can be a communicable disease.

In a statement to FoxNews.com, lead authors Catherine de Martel and Martyn Plummer from IARC said, "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 the future burden of cancer worldwide.”

Martel and Plummer´s research also found these infections-turned-cancers have a higher mortality rate than any other cancers. In fact, of the 7.5 million worldwide deaths from cancer in 2008, approximately 1.5 million were due to infections.

Speaking with Fox News, Plummer said, “The burden of infection-related cancer is higher in less-developed countries.”

“In less-developed countries, 22.9 percent of cancers are due to infection, whereas in more-developed countries the figure is 7.4 percent.”

What´s worse, vaccines are available for these 4 main infections. For instance, a vaccine exists to protect against HPV, which is linked to cervical cancer. Likewise, a vaccine exists to protect against the hepatitis B virus, which can turn into cancer of the liver.

As for cancers of the stomach, experts widely understand that these cancers can be prevented by using antibiotics to clear the bacterial infection H. pylori from the stomach.

Speaking to the BBC, Dr. Goodarz Danaei from Harvard School of Public Medicine in Boston commented on the new research, saying, “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.”

Across the pond, Jessica Harris of Cancer Research UK told the BBC: “It´s important that authorities worldwide make every effort to reduce the number of infection-related cancers, especially when many of these infections can be prevented. In the UK, infections are thought to be responsible for 3% of cancers, or around 9,700 cases each year.”

“Vaccination against HPV, which causes cervical cancer, should go a long way towards reducing rates of this disease in the UK. But it´s important that uptake of the vaccination remains high. At a global level, if the vaccine were available in more countries, many thousands more cases could be prevented.”