A sixth of all cancers worldwide are the result of potentially treatable or preventable infections caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites, according to a new study. Researchers found that that almost 2 million new cancer cases in 2008 were caused by the human papilloma virus, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and the stomach bacterium Helicobacter pylori, and that the proportion of cancers caused by infection was three times higher in developing countries, reports the Guardian. A fifth of the 7.5 million cancer deaths worldwide in 2008 were caused by infection-related cancers, the study found.
The research shows that vaccines for HPV and hepatitis B should be a priority for health care systems, notes an editorial accompanying the Lancet study. The HPV vaccination program is gaining momentum, but only very slowly, because "it’s hard to get teenagers in for all three doses," and "because HPV is sexually transmitted, it’s evoked a whole bunch of hullaballoo over whether the vaccine promotes promiscuity," the chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center tells ABC. Greater progress has been made with the hepatitis B vaccination program, he says, so the occurrence of liver cancer should be "dropping precipitously" over the next 20 years. (Read more cancer stories.)