May 10, 2012

Cutting Cancer by Treating Infections

(Ivanhoe Newswire) — While the world still seeks out the cures for cancers, we may already have the solution to preventing 1 in 6 of them.

In a study conducted by Catherine de Martel and Martyn Plummer from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, France, it was revealed that 1.5 million out of 7.5 million deaths from cancer were caused by potentially preventable or treatable infections.

Using a systemic analysis to estimate the amount of cancers that could be contributed to infection globally and in eight regions, de Martel and colleagues calculated the population attributable fractions (PAF) — the amount of new cancer cases in a population that could have been prevented by intervening on the specific exposure to infection. The data was drawn from many sources including GLOBOCAN statistics on incidence estimates for 27 cancers in 184 countries, and revealed that 16% of cancers worldwide in 2008 were infection-related and the fraction of cancers related to infection was three times higher in developing versus developed countries.

"Many infection-related cancers are preventable, particularly those associated with human papillomaviruses (HPV), Helicobacter pylori, and hepatitis B (HBV) and C viruses (HCV)," the study authors were quoted as saying. These 4 main infections are estimated to be collectively responsible for 1.9 million cases of cancer, most of which are gastric, liver, and cervical.

"The 2011 UN high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases highlighted the growing global agenda for prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. [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."

To help curb these infectious agents worldwide, larger measures must be taken in the area of infection prevention, including vaccination, safer injection practice, and antimicrobial treatments.

"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," Goodarz Danaei from Harvard School of Public Medicine, Boston, USA, was quoted as 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."

Source: The Lancet Oncology, May 2012