Several infectious agents are known to be associated with increased risk of developing cancer. According to a study recently published in Lancet Global Health, the rate of cancer associated with infection is higher than expected. The study used the GLOBOCAN 2018 database of cancer incidence and mortality rates to evaluate specific cancer types known to be associated with 10 infectious pathogens.
According to the analysis, in 2018 there were 2.2 million cases of cancer attributable to infection, corresponding to an age-standardized incidence rate (ASIR) of 25 cases per 100,000 person-years. The majority of these new cases were associated with Helicobacter pylori (810,000 new cases in 2018; ASIR 8.7), human papillomavirus (HPV; 690,000 new cases; ASIR 8.0), hepatitis B virus (360,000 new cases; ASIR 4.1), and hepatitis C virus (160,000 new cases; ASIR 1.7). While men and women were affected equally by pathogen-driven cancers, the types of infections and cancers varied. For example, women were more likely to develop cancer from HPV infection, while men were more likely to develop cancer from H. pylori infection. Geographic location also influenced cancer rates. The highest rates of infection-attributable cancers occurred in eastern Asia (ASIR 37.9 cases per 100,000 person years) and sub-Saharan Africa (33.1). Approximately one-third of infection-attributable cancers occurred in China, driven primarily by H. pylori and hepatitis B virus.
The investigators concluded that infectious agents are responsible for an increasing proportion of cancer cases and that resources should be directed at preventing the spread of infections associated with cancer, particularly in high-risk populations.
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Lancet Global Health. 2020;8(2):E180-E190.