Preventable/Treatable Infections Cause Some Cancers

Alvin B. Lin, MD, FAAFP
Dr. Lin is an associate professor of family and community medicine at University of Nevada School of Medicine and an adjunct professor of family medicine and geriatrics at Touro University Nevada College of Medicine. He also serves as an advisory medical director for Infinity Hospice Care and as medical director of Lions HealthFirst Foundation. Dr. Lin maintains a small private practice in Las Vegas, NV. The posts represent the views of Dr. Lin, and in no way are to be construed as representative of the above listed organizations. Dr. Lin blogs about current medical literature and news at


It's been a long week and the Memorial Day weekend is about to descend upon us, officially signaling the start of summer (prior to the actual Northern solstice).  And it's during these celebratory weekends that many of us engage in activities which we might not otherwise do if we weren't under the influence of various chemicals and substances.  As a consequence, it's possible to pick up an infection or two.  Now for the most part, the cure is relatively simple requiring but a visit to your physician and taking some antibiotics as directed.

However, as noted in an article published online earlier this month in the Lancet Oncology, it turns out that infections account for 1 in 6 to almost 1 in 5 cancers, or approximately 2 million cases each year. Granted your risk of developing an infection-induced cancer is three times higher in a developing country (22.9%) than compared to a developed one (7.4%) but if you really want to play the odds, move to Australia or New Zealand where the risk is but 3.3% as compared to 32.7% in sub-Saharan Africa.

So what do you need to avoid?  It turns out that H pylori, hepatitis B and C, and human papilloma viruses (HPV) accounted for 1.9 million of the 12.7 million new cancers diagnosed in 2008.  You may or may be aware that untreated H pylori can lead to gastric cancer, while chronic hepatitis B & C can lead to liver cancer, and HPV can lead to cervical, anal, and oral cancers.  

The good news is that we can test for and treat H pylori, thus preventing gastric cancer.  While we're only just now beginning to develop therapies to treat hepatitis C, we can vaccinate against hepatitis B, thus preventing one cause of liver cancer.  And while garnering quite a bit of controversy, we can also vaccinate against HPV, thus decreasing one's risk for cervical, anal, and oral cancers (depending upon one's activities).

While it's unlikely that you'll catch H pylori over the weekend, you might want to reconsider getting a tattoo at that questionable facility in order to hook up with the partner who might pass on hepatitis or HPV.  Of course, that assumes that you're not under the influence, so choose wisely however you decide to have fun.