The infection may be gone, but the risk may not.

My father had pulmonary tuberculosis nearly 4 decades ago. Clinically, it had been considered healed tuberculosis after timely treatment along with years of monitoring. Even until 2 years ago before diagnosis of lung cancer, the only thing showing on his chest X-ray was a localized calcification (i.e., calcium deposition, a mark of healed lesion in his case) without any visible changes. Also, he was symptomless concerning any upper-respiratory diseases. Unexpectedly, there were some lung malignancies clearly showing on his very last chest X-ray in 2009 — one that appeared significantly different compared with the one taken 2 years prior.

Virus_1259076_untitledThere are countless similar stories regarding the link between personal histories of infectious diseases and cancer. A friend of mine died of liver cancer in his 40s — a real tragedy given his age. It turned out that he had hepatitis (infected with hepatitis B virus) when he was young.

It’s scientifically proven with regards to infection-associated cancer. Pancreatic inflammation appears to increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, and some patients with pancreatic cancer had history of pancreatitis. A history of urinary tract infection is currently accepted as a risk factor for developing bladder cancer, and has been positively linked to the development of renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer), with notably elevated risks for men with a history of smoking.

An infective agent is linked to some of the most common cancers. Human papilloma virus (HPV, also called “wart virus”) is responsible for cervical cancer, one of the most common cancers affecting women. A two-fold danger exists with this disease. First, HPV is highly transmissible and considered the most common sexually transmitted infection in most populations; second, most women infected with the virus may become negative within 2 years, or HPV infection can persist for years in the body without causing any problems. However, women with persistent high-risk HPV infections are at the greatest risk for developing cervical cancer. A recent study showed that a sexually transmitted bacterial infection (known as trichomoniasis) has been linked to increased risk for advanced prostate cancer – the illness that strikes nearly 200,000 American men each year.

We can go on and on …

This doesn’t mean that you’ll develop cancer if you have any infection or inflammation, because infection alone usually does not lead to cancer. However, it does mean that you need to control your infection, get it treated timely, and thereafter be vigilant about any cancer risk factors and live a healthy lifestyle.

Photo credit: by Leonardini

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