Every sixth cancer case: germs cause cancer

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Germs responsible for millions of cancers

Millions of cancers are caused by infections with viruses or bacteria every year. These cancer cases would be avoidable if adequate protection against infection or adequate drug treatment were provided worldwide. According to a recent study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, around 16 percent of the 12.7 million new cancer cases in 2008 were due to infections. In other words, around two million cancers could have been avoided if vaccinations and medication had been used to fight the infections, Catherine de Martel and Martyn Plummer write in the specialist magazine "Lancet Oncology".

Every sixth cancer caused by viruses or bacteria The team led by Catherine de Martel and Martyn Plummer from the International Agency for Research on Cancer - an institution of the World Health Organization (WHO) - had evaluated the worldwide cancer diseases from the year 2008. They found that about a sixth of new cancer cases were due to bacterial or viral infections. "Of the 12.7 million new cancer cases that occurred in 2008, 16.1 percent were caused by pathogens, which means that around 2 million new cancer cases were caused by infections," write Catherine de Martel and colleagues . In less developed countries, infections are a far more common cause of cancer than in more developed countries. The proportion of new cancer-related diseases in developing countries averaged 22.9 percent, while infections in the industrialized countries were responsible for only 7.4 percent of new cancer cases.

The researchers found the lowest proportion at 3.3 percent in Australia and New Zealand, and the highest at 32.7 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. As part of their study, the researchers evaluated cancer statistics from 184 countries, taking 27 different types of cancer into account.

1.5 million cancer deaths preventable each year Regarding the approximately 7.5 million cancer deaths in 2008, the researchers found that around 1.5 million of these worldwide deaths were due to tumors caused by infection. According to this, more than a million cancer deaths per year could be prevented if appropriate vaccination protection or appropriate drug treatment were given. "Infections with certain viruses, bacteria and parasites are one of the largest and most preventable causes of cancer worldwide," said the researchers.

The experts identified bacteria from the genus Helicobacter pylori, hepatitis B and C viruses and human papillomaviruses as the most important avoidable triggers of the infections, which can lead to the formation of tumors. In total, these pathogens are responsible for 1.9 million cancer cases - especially stomach, liver and cervical cancer. Around half of the cancer caused by infection in women is cervical cancer, while 80 percent of men are liver and stomach cancer, write Catherine de Martel and Martyn Plummer. According to the researchers, around 30 percent of infection-related cancers affect people under the age of 50.

Preventive vaccinations and antibacterial drugs Of the cancer diseases caused by infections with viruses or bacteria, around 80 percent are in poorer, less developed countries, which the scientists believe illustrates the need for action on the ground. Preventive vaccinations and antibacterial drugs could achieve a significant success in the fight against cancer, the cancer researchers emphasized in the article "The global burden of cancer due to infections in 2008". Infections by human papilloma viruses, hepatitis B and C viruses and bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori can be avoided or, in the case of the bacteria, are easy to treat. Goodarz Danaei from Harvard University in Boston (USA) said in an accompanying commentary on the study results presented that, for example, against human papilloma viruses and hepatitis B viruses, “effective and comparatively cheap vaccines” are available and therefore “a broader application priority for health systems in particularly stressed countries ”. (fp)

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