Updated 13 April 2017

Viruses and cancer

Do viruses cause cancer? And if so, which viruses have the potential to cause cancer? We investigate two known triggers.


Hepatitis B

It is reasonably certain that viruses can cause cancer. Much research is being done on this. People who travel a lot are at particular risk. Hepatitis B spreads easily and everyone should actually be immunised against it. More people die of liver cancer caused by hepatitis B than in motor vehicle accidents. In 1996 there were 20 000 deaths.

If you have hepatitis B, your chances of getting liver cancer are 200 times higher than if you weren’t a carrier. There are 300 million Hepatitis B carriers in the world. 2,5 million south Africans have the disease. The government has started to immunize all children against this. Hepatitis B is a chronic disease. AIDS is the flavour of the month, so hepatitis does not get the exposure it deserves. Hepatitis B is transmitted amongst other things, through sexual contact.

There is no immunisation against Hepatitis C.

The human papillome virus

The human papillome virus causes cervical cancer. Safe sex prevents the spreading of this. Having a Pap smear three times in her life can prevent cervical cancer in most women. It takes about seven years to develop and the treatment is usually very effective. The frightening thing is that 80 percent of women in SA never get tested. It is a slow-developing cancer and can be eradicated easily when caught early.

Many other cancers cannot be detected in this way – much research is being done on this at present.

Read more:
Types of cancer prevalent in South Africa


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