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Alcohol and virus make cancer more challenging

by DrPrem Jagyasi
Young cancer patient

The fact that smoking leads to cancer is commonly known, but alcohol and viruses can cause cancer. Alcohol can cause cancer in the same way as smoking, over a long period of time. The global challenges due to alcohol and virus linked cancer has increased as there is a higher number of people which are affected by alcohol and viruses.

Viruses are extremely small organisms which are composed of DNA and RNA coated by protein. Viruses enter living cells and takes over those cells to reproduce and propagate more viruses. When the RNA or DNA of a virus affects the genes of the host cells, it can lead to the affected cells becoming cancerous. Read on to find out about the challenges of cancer patients because of alcohol and virus:

Liver cancer and alcohol

Liver cancer and alcohol

According to studies, almost 1/3rd of liver cancer in the developed countries is caused by alcohol, particularly in the Eastern European countries and Russia. Liver cancer cases are found to be lower in countries where less alcohol is consumed. According to the scientists at the Stirling University, drinking in the UK has caused liver cancer, but alcohol induced cancer takes a long time to develop.

There has been a decrease in the UK in the consumption of alcohol in the past 10 years, still under 5% of people drink heavily, which exposes them to the risk of alcohol induced cancer.

Global challenges due to alcohol and virus are rising as countries like India and China are seeing heavier drinking due to better economies. Women too are at risk in these countries due to more women drinking in the recent years in these countries.

As most people worldwide are not aware of the link between between cancer and alcohol, governments have to show more initiative to publicise this link and take appropriate measures to discourage drinking of alcohol.

The link between viruses and cancer

link between viruses and cancer

Many viruses have been linked to different cancers. Virus infections that can lead to cancer have been studied by scientists and many vaccines have been developed which can prevent cancer. But these vaccines are effective only when given before exposure to viruses which cause cancer. Some viruses which cause cancer are: 

HPVs or Human papilloma virus

These are more than 150 viruses and are called papillomas as they cause warts on the skin or mucous membranes, such as vagina, throat and mouth.

All HPV types are spread through touch/contact and 40 HPVs can be spread by sexual contact.  Although HPVs are common, most do not cause cancer. But a few kinds of HPVs cause cervical cancer. However, there is a vaccine for cervical cancer which can be given to girls up to a certain age. The Pap smear test too can show pre-cancerous cells which can be removed to prevent cancer.

HPV vaccine can be given to boys from age 9 to 26 and to girls aged 13 to 26 years.

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)

link between viruses and cancer

The EBV is a kind of herpes which is passed on by sneezing, coughing, kissing and sharing eating and drinking utensils. EBV may cause nasopharyngeal cancer, some lymphomas, and stomach cancer in a small number of people.

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) and Hepatitis B virus (HBV)

There are certain types of virus infections that can lead to cancer are chronic HCV and HBV liver infections that can cause liver cancer. This virus has also been linked with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This virus is spread by contact too.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

link between viruses and cancer

The HIV virus does not cause cancer directly but it increases the risk of several cancers, especially those which are linked to different viruses. HIV is spread by unprotected sex, sharing needles with infected person and through breast milk, organ and blood transfusions and accidental penetration of needles. HIV attacks the immune system killing white blood cells and the weakened body may develop cancer.

Human herpes virus 8 (HHV-8)

KSHV-8 virus has been found in almost all Kaposi sarcoma which is cancer which occurs just underneath the skin. The cells which line the lymph and blood vessels are infected with this virus, which might lead to cancer.

link between viruses and cancer

Other virus infections that can lead to cancer, are HHV-8 (herpes), HTLV-1, and MCV. The challenges of cancer patients because of alcohol and virus can be reduced with ongoing research and the development of more preventative vaccines, or cures for virus infections.