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Is Cancer Contagious? The ACS Says No, but is This the Truth? -- An Editorial

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In an article by the American Cancer Society titled “Is Cancer Contagious”, the comment is emphatically made that it is not. The article goes on to say,
“If cancer were contagious, we would have cancer epidemics just as we have flu epidemics -- cancer would spread like measles, polio, or the common cold. We would expect a high rate of cancer among the families and friends of cancer patients and among health professionals to reflect their exposure to the disease. This is not the case.”

In the case of the human papillomavirus I would have to disagree. HPV is known to cause numerous cancers including cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal and oral, as well as penile. Its main method of transmission is through intimate skin-to-skin contact. It does not require intercourse however this only increased the chances of contracting the virus, especially for women, through small tears or abrasions in the vagina during intercourse.

Family members don’t have intimate relations with each other and they don’t typically have them with their friends either. And it’s obvious that they aren’t having intimate relations with their physicians. So the theory as related in this article borders on the absurd.

While HPV does not transmit cancer in the literal sense of the word, it does introduce the precursors known, under the right conditions, to cause cancer. We know that HPV is a sexually transmitted infection and can also be transmitted through oral sex and some have indicated that transmission through kissing is not beyond the realm of possibilities as well as through foamites (inanimate objects, fingers, sex toys etc).

The article goes on to state, “There is no evidence that close contact or things like sex, kissing, touching ... can spread cancer from one person to another.” On the contrary, more and more research is confirming that transmission of HPV is far more complex and involves multiple modes of transmission and one is certainly more likely to develop one of these cancers if they have been exposed to HPV than not.

Today, 99.9 percent of cervical cancers are the result of HPV and over 90 percent of anal cancers. Oral cancers continue to rise, particularly in younger men, at a staggering rate which has already exceeded the number of cervical cancers on an annual basis.

As with other HPV-related cancers, it is not a difficulty in diagnosing these cancers that are the problem, but a lack of education on the part of physicians and the lack of public awareness and early screening opportunities.

Cancer in the broader sense of the conversation -- or shall I say the potential for cancer -- has shown to be very much contagious as it relates to HPV. The hepatitis viruses have long been known to result in liver and pancreatic cancers. Perhaps we may ultimately find that all cancers are the result of various viruses, but until then, perhaps the ACS should take a bit more pragmatic view on its current position.

" Is Cancer Contagious? ." American Cancer Society :: Information and Resources for Cancer: Breast, Colon, Prostate, Lung and Other Forms. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Aug. 2011.

"Hepatitis B Foundation: Hepatitis B and Primary Liver Cancer." Hepatitis B Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Aug. 2011. http://www.hepb.org/professionals/hepb_and_liver_cancer.htm

The Oral Cancer Foundation. Web.28 Aug. 2011. http://www.oralcancerfoundation.com

Reviewed August 29, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

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