Health Buzz: One in Six Cancers Caused by Infection

7 strange cancer claims explained; to prevent cancer, rethink your diet as well as your smoking


Study: Cancer Often Caused by Treatable Infection

One in every six cancers worldwide is caused by a treatable or preventable infection. That's according to new estimates published in the journal Lancet Oncology. Of the 7.5 million deaths from cancer in 2008, about 1.5 million were due to infections, the study authors say. The primary cancer-causing infections were human papillomavirus (HPV), the gastric bug Helicobacter pylori, and the hepatitis B and C viruses. These four agents were most likely to cause gastric, liver, and cervical cancers. "One thing that infection-associated cancers have in common is that a chronic infection is required," study author Martyn Plummer of the International Agency for Research on Cancer told Fox News. "It takes decades for an infection to progress to cancer." The findings highlight the need for cancer control priorities, Plummer says. For example, vaccinations are a strong way to prevent infection-associated cancer, and implementing these more widely in less developed countries could make an important difference.

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  • What Causes Cancer? 7 Strange Cancer Claims Explained

    Bras, deodorant, and mouthwash­—just a few of the everyday products that have been linked to cancer at some point during the past several decades. Preposterous? Not at the time, and new suspects have been added to the list. Here's the real story behind a roll call of ordinary household items that have come under scrutiny:

    1. Artificial Sweeteners. The link: Calorie watchers scored a win when diet sodas were introduced in the early 1950s. Then lab studies suggested that the sweetener cyclamate caused bladder cancer in rats, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned its use. Then saccharin, the replacement of choice, was also shown to cause tumors in rats. Although saccharin was never banned, all products containing the sweetener were required to carry a cancer warning on their packaging.

    The reality: No evidence has since emerged that either cyclamate, which is used in other countries, or saccharin causes cancer in humans, according to the National Cancer Institute. Although cyclamate is still banned, in 2000 saccharin was taken off the government's list of possible carcinogens and saccharin products shed the warning label. The sweetener aspartame has come under suspicion, but scientists have found no increased risk of cancer in humans. [Read more: What Causes Cancer? 7 Strange Cancer Claims Explained.]

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    • Cancer Prevention: Rethink Your Diet as Well as Your Smoking

      If everyone were to quit smoking, nearly 450,000 fewer Americans would die annually from smoking-related diseases, U.S. News reported in 2010. Yet even with all the smoking bans across the country, one in five Americans still lights up regularly—a rate that's plateaued since 2005 after four decades of decline, according to a report issued last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the smoking-lung cancer connection is an old story, every week, it seems, another headline tells you what you should or shouldn't eat to avert the "big C". Eat a colorful array of fruits and vegetables to ward off lung cancer, says one recent study; avoid soft drinks if you don't want to die of pancreatic cancer, warns another. Wine is good for your heart, but may increase your risk of breast cancer, others suggest.

      And who wouldn't be willing to give up the Diet Coke or chardonnay to sidestep the disease we fear most? It you took action based on research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, you might find yourself forgoing hamburgers and chicken wings and embracing soy burgers, tofu, and peanut butter instead. That study found that an Atkins-style diet that emphasized vegetable protein over animal protein lowered the risk of cancer. But all things considered, how much do dietary changes really matter in terms of cancer prevention? "Right after smoking, diet ranks right up there as the No. 2 modifiable risk factor," says Demetrius Albanes, a senior investigator and medical epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute. "Twenty-five percent of cancers can be related back to eating practices." Does that mean we really need to avoid soft drinks if we don't want to get pancreatic cancer, as was suggested by a study in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention? "I don't think we can say that," Albanes says. "That particular study from Singapore didn't control very well for smoking, which is an important risk factor for pancreatic cancer." In other words, it could be that those who down daily six-packs of Fanta are also more likely to light up. [Read more: Cancer Prevention: Rethink Your Diet as Well as Your Smoking.]