Healthy living

One in six cancers caused by infections

One in six cancers caused by infections Responsible for nearly two million cases of cancer worldwide

One in six cancers worldwide are caused by infections which can be prevented or treated, research suggests.

An estimated two million cases of cancer each year are caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites, which are potentially preventable or treatable, according to a study published in the journal Lancet Oncology.

Scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer in France looked at the proportion of new cancer cases related to infection for 27 cancers in 184 countries, and found that around 16 per cent of all cancers worldwide in 2008 were infection-related.

The proportion of cancers related to infection was about three times higher in developing countries than in developed ones, ranging from 7.4% in the UK to 32.7% in sub-Saharan Africa.

Infections caused by human papillomaviruses (HPV), Helicobacter pylori, and hepatitis B (HBV) and C viruses (HCV) were estimated to be responsible for 1.9 million cancer cases worldwide, most of which were gastric, liver and cervical cancers.

In women, cervical cancer accounted for around half of all infection-related cancers, while in men more than 80 per cent were liver and gastric cancers.

Study leaders Dr Catherine de Martel and Dr Martyn Plummer 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 future burden of cancer worldwide."

Commenting on the research, Dr Goodarz Danaei, from Harvard School of Public Medicine, said: "Their estimates show the potential for preventive and therapeutic programmes in less developed countries to significantly reduce the global burden of cancer and the vast disparities across regions and countries.

"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."

This article was published on Wed 9 May 2012

Image © Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (

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