Is cancer contagious? Not in the purest sense, but the fact of the matter is that viruses, which are contagious, can lead to tens of thousands of certain cancers. And these cancers can be mostly eradicated with available vaccines and screening, says Carolyn Aldigé, founder of The Prevent Cancer Foundation, an organization dedicated to preventing the dreaded disease.
The HPV or human papillomavirus causes:
- 91% of cervical cancers.
- 95% of anal cancers.
- 70% of oropharyngeal cancers.
The hepatitis B and C viruses are responsible for approximately 80% to 95% of all liver cancers.
And although we have vaccines and screenings to prevent or treat these viruses, most Americans aren’t aware of the link and haven’t taken advantage of the medicine and technology available.
“I realized that after my own father died from cancer, that I wanted to do everything in my power to educate people about cancer prevention,” Aldigé tells Newsmax. “We want to raise awareness of the connection between certain viruses and cancer.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the HPV vaccine for adolescents at age 11 and 12, given in two doses over 12 months. However, if this window is missed there is a vaccine for adults up to age 26 that is given in three doses.
“These are the ages when the vaccines are most effective,” Aldigé explains. “Unfortunately, many parents believe that having their children vaccinated will lead to promiscuity. So only one-third of adolescents have received the protocol but we are seeing improvement in the numbers.”
Even with vaccination, experts recommend that women still have regular Pap smears for cervical cancer screening.
But cervical cancer isn’t the only link to the HPV virus, which is the most common sexually transmitted infection. It can also cause vulvar, vaginal, penile, and anal cancers as well as cancer of the head and neck and back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils called oropharyngeal cancer.
Hepatitis B and C are viruses that have also been linked to several forms of cancer. But the most common is the link to potentially deadly liver cancer. Hepatitis B is a liver infection transmitted through bodily fluid from an infected person. Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus most commonly transmitted by sharing needles or other equipment used for injecting recreational drugs.
The best way to prevent hepatitis B is to get vaccinated. The CDC recommends that all children receive their first dose of hepatitis vaccine at birth and complete a three-to-four dose series between six and 18 months of age, says Aldigé.
While there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, it is recommended that people reduce their risk by avoiding activities that spread the virus, especially using injectable drugs. It’s also important to have blood tests that screen for the virus, as there are treatments available that reduce the chance of developing cirrhosis or liver cancer.
“Tens of thousands of Americans are suffering each year from cancers caused by viruses — all the more heartbreaking when you consider that infection with these viruses is mostly preventable,” Dr. Erich M. Sturgis, M.D., professor of the Department of Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center tells Newsmax. “As a physician who treats cancer patients daily, I’m disheartened to learn that research shows most people are unaware of the link between viruses and cancer. We need to educate the public and health care providers on the steps they can take to prevent viral infections, and ultimately cancer.”
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