Report suggests one in six cancers caused by treatable infections
A recently published report has estimated that one in six cancers, around two million a year globally, are caused by largely treatable or preventable infections.
The Lancet Infectious Diseases review looked at incidence rates for 27 cancers in 184 countries, and found that four main infections – human papillomaviruses, Helicobacter pylori and hepatitis B and C viruses – account for 1.9m cases of cervical, gut and liver cancers.
These cases are usually most prominent in developing nations, as the infections are usually fairly easy to treat elsewhere. The proportion of cancers related to infection is about three times higher in certain parts of the developing world, such as east Asia (22.9%), than in developed countries like the UK (7.4%).
Among women, cervical cancer accounted for about half of the infection-related cancers, whilst in men, more than 80% were liver and gastric cancers. Nearly a third of cases occur in people younger than 50 years.
The team behind the report, from the International Agency for Research on Cancer in France, says more efforts are needed to tackle these avoidable cases and recognise cancer as a communicable disease. Drs Catherine de Martel and Martyn Plummer, who led the research, said: “Infections with certain viruses, bacteria and parasites are some 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.”
Vaccines are currently available to protect against human papillomavirus (HPV) – which is linked to cancer of the cervix – and hepatitis B virus – an established cause of liver cancer. Additionally, stomach cancer can be avoided by clearing the bacterial infection H. pylori from the gut using a course of antibiotics.
Jessica Harris of Cancer Research UK said: “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.”
If you’re thinking of becoming an expatriate, or indeed if you are already living overseas, it’s crucial to ensure that you have protected yourself with any necessary vaccinations where possible. The immunisation you require will depend on a variety of factors, including the country you’re moving to, your age, health and whether you’ll be living in a rural or urban location. It’s vital to consult with a GP or practice nurse about your requirements to ensure you are fully protected. If you’d like to read more about immunisation for going abroad, Fitfortravel offer country-specific information about vaccinations – although bear in mind it is only a guide, so ensure you discuss your particular needs with a doctor or nurse.
Source – BBC News 9 May 12