One in six cancers are caused by preventable infections, research shows.
Infections cause around two million cancer cases a year, with 80 per cent of these effecting the developing world.
Of 7.5 million cancer deaths worldwide in 2008, 1.5 million were down to treatable or preventable infections, reports the Lancet Oncology.
Catherine de Martel and Martyn Plummer from the International Agency for Research on Cancer in France 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.”
For the study the team estimated the proportion of cancers that could be attributed to infection globally and in eight regions by calculating the population attributable fractions (PAF) - the proportion of new cancers in a population that could have been prevented by an intervention.
They calculated that around 16 per cent of all cancers worldwide in 2008 were infection-related, with the fraction of cancers related to infection about three times higher in developing than in developed countries.
The fraction of infection-related cancers varied widely between regions, from 3.3 per cent in Australia and New Zealand to 32.7 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa.
Dr de Martel said, “Many infection-related cancers are preventable, particularly those associated with human papillomaviruses (HPV), Helicobacter pylori, and hepatitis B (HBV) and C viruses (HCV).”
Cervical cancer accounted for around half of the infection-related burden of cancer in women, and in men liver and gastric cancers accounted for more than 80 per cent.
Dr de Martel concluded, “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.”
In an accompanying Comment, Goodarz Danaei from Harvard School of Public Medicine, Boston, 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.”
–Daily Mail, London