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Infection prevention could avoid two million cancers every year

Wednesday May 9th, 2012

About two million cases of cancer each year are caused by infections which may be preventable or treatable, experts say today.

Infection with viruses, bacteria, and parasites are a major cause of cancer worldwide, say Dr Catherine de Martel of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, France, and colleagues in the Lancet Oncology.

Prevention and treatment of these infections has already cut cancer rates, but there is much more to be done. The researchers calculated the "population attributable fraction" of new cancer cases that might have been prevented by medical intervention. They looked at the rate worldwide and in eight geographical regions, using figures from 2008.

Overall, of the 12.7 million new cancer cases in 2008, infectious agents caused just over 16 per cent. Further analysis showed that the rate was higher in less developed countries, at 22.9 per cent, than in more developed countries, at 7.4 per cent. It varied from just 3.3 per cent in Australia and New Zealand to 32.7 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa.

The researchers say that Helicobacter pylori, hepatitis B and C viruses, and human papillomaviruses were responsible for the vast majority of the cases, which were mainly gastric, liver, and cervical cancers.

They report that in women, cervical cancer accounted for about half of infection-related cancers, and in men, liver and gastric cancers accounted for more than 80 per cent.

"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," they conclude.

Global burden of cancers attributable to infections in 2008: a review and synthetic analysis. de Martel, C. et al. The Lancet Oncology May 9 2012 doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(12)70137-7

Tags: Africa | Cancer | Europe | Flu & Viruses | World Health

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