On December 3, 1890 William Russell, a pathologist in the School of Medicine at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, gave an address to the Pathological Society of London. In it he outlined his findings of “a characteristic organism of cancer” that he had observed microscopically in all forms of cancer that he examined, as well as in certain cases of tuberculosis, syphilis and skin infection.
On May 8, 2012, Catherine de Martel and Martyn Plummer from the International Agency for Research on Cancer in France announced: “Infections with certain viruses, bacteria, and parasites are one of the biggest and preventable causes of cancer worldwide.”
In case you haven’t already done the math, that means it’s taken 122 years for someone to take notice.
A hundred and twenty two years ago! That’s the year Eiffel Tower was completed, it’s around the time that serial killer Jack the Ripper was terrorizing London, the same year Thomas Edison used electric Christmas lights for the first time and the year Vincent Van Gogh, the Dutch painter, committed suicide.
How, you might ask, have scientists put men on the moon, developed the internet, flying cars and metal-free underwear bombs, but yet remain so ignorant about cancer and its origin?
How can the infectious causes of tuberculosis, leprosy, syphilis, smallpox, polio, malaria, and other viral and bacterial and parasitic diseases be so well understood, but the cause of cancer be unknown?
The fact that all cancers could conceivably be caused by an infectious agent now seems a distinct possibility. That, until now, this has been overlooked, ignored, or unrecognized by twentieth century doctors is simply incredible.
According to de Martel and Plummer, one in six cancers, accounting for around two million cases a year, are caused by preventable infections. They claim “application of existing public-health methods for infection prevention, such as vaccination, safer injection practice, or antimicrobial treatments, could have a substantial effect on future burden of cancer worldwide.”
The percentage of cancers related to infection is about three times higher in developing than in developed countries. For example the fraction of infection-related cancers is around 3.3%in Australia and New Zealand to 32.7% in sub-Saharan Africa.
Many infection-related cancers are preventable, particularly those associated with human papillomaviruses (HPV), Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), hepatitis B (HBV) and C viruses (HCV).
Of these infection-related cancers, cervical cancer accounts for around half of the cancer in women. In men, liver and gastric cancers accounted for more than 80%.
Dr. de Martel says: “Although cancer is considered a major non-communicable disease, a sizable proportion of its causation is infectious and simple non-communicable disease paradigms will not be sufficient.”
Clearly we need to start making up for 122 years of lost time and directing further research and treatment efforts into these preventable causes of cancer. Since vaccines for HPV and HBV are available, and increasing their availability, and lowering the cost should be a priority for governments and health systems around the world.