Angry Doctor

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Can you catch cancer?

Is the water safe to drink?

An article by Andy Ho in the Straits Times drew a rebuttal from a professor and lecturer in cancer biology in the ST Forum today, and fellow-Clearthought bloggers at Fresh Brainz and Vexillum II have written on the topic too.

For once, angry doc is inclined to disagree with the expert and his fellow-Clearthought bloggers - he thinks that Andy Ho's message that you *can* catch certain forms of cancer is basically correct.

As Ed has shown, sharing food with a patient with nasopharyngeal carcinoma is unlikely to increase your chances of having the cancer yourself significantly; but can that be said of all cancers where infection by a micro-organism plays a significant role in the pathogenesis?

angry doc is thinking specifically of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium mentioned in passing in Andy Ho's article but not addressed by Professor Featherstone.

H. pylori is now known be "a strong risk factor for non-cardia gastric cancer" that in one study was found to have "increased risk for the disease nearly eight-fold".

Given the fact that H. pylori is an important risk factor for non-cardia gastric cancer, and that it is "thought to be spread either through contaminated food and water or through direct mouth-to-mouth contact", is it correct for Professor Featherstone to say that "there is not a single malignancy that can cause someone to 'catch' cancer in any meaningful use of the term"?

(What, for that matter, does "meaningful use of the term" 'catch' mean?)

Or is Andy Ho correct when he advised: "Don't be politically correct unto death"?

Well, is the water safe to drink?

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10 Comments:

  • Just another typically sensationalistic piece of writing from Andy Hor. Nothing that's worth blogging about.

    You can just as much catch cancer as breathe, drink, eat, have sex cancer. Even get it from your doctor's medications.

    We should all live in a bubble.

    By Blogger gigamole, At March 10, 2009 6:58 pm  

  • That some cancers have an infectious component is not in dispute. The problem is that Andy Ho's muddled and sensationalist writing style mashes all these types of cancer together and makes it difficult to tell what sort of precaution one should take, if it is even necessary to begin with.

    By Blogger Lim Leng Hiong, At March 11, 2009 12:21 am  

  • Andy Ho is the same author who says that the chief issue of mechanobiology is "form follows function" or "function follows form".

    Is that really an issue in mechanobiology? I don't know, but I am willing to bet no, giving his confused writing history.

    By Blogger Anders Brink, At March 11, 2009 12:28 am  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger tscd, At March 11, 2009 10:42 am  

  • Gigamole, actually, by the author's definition, you can actually "catch" cancer by being sexually promiscuous - human papilloma virus has a known relation with the development of cervical cancer.

    But yeah, newspapermen should really try to be more responsible.

    By Blogger tscd, At March 11, 2009 10:43 am  

  • I'd concede that some parts of the article like those parts about HPV and cervical cancer and H. Pylori are true, I'm just irritated that he is so irresponsible in the presentation of his article by including misleading information that is hardly true.

    By Anonymous Edgar, At March 11, 2009 11:46 am  

  • tscd,

    Actually, I think it is sound to say that one can 'catch' cervical cancer.

    Ed,

    Yes, as usual it is the mixture of facts and misinformation which makes propaganda dangerous.

    By Blogger angry doc, At March 11, 2009 5:11 pm  

  • The problem here is the fundamental inability to distinguish between an infectious disease and a contagious disease.

    H.pylori is an infectious disease just like urinary tract infections are infectious diseases but these are not widely thought of as contagious.

    No one says "I caught a UTI from my husband/lover"

    HPV is contagious but there are a number of stages which go between HPV infection and Cervical cancer

    EBV is infectious, as the biologist pointed out, almost all of us are infected, but few will get NPC or central nervous system lymphomas

    By Anonymous Paul Ananth, At March 11, 2009 11:35 pm  

  • angry doc: Really? I think that catching a risk factor for cancer is not the same as catching the actual disease.

    Being at risk of stomach cancer doesn't give you a 100% guarantee of getting it if you have H Pylori. Besides, H. pylori is easily eradicated with combination therapy. To tell someone who has been fully treated for H Pylori that they have 'caught' cancer is just irresposible.

    By Blogger tscd, At March 12, 2009 11:42 am  

  • (edited for punctuation error)

    Prof, tscd,

    I think we are looking at a matter of definitions and semantics; those things are important, but I think it is also important to recognise the cause-and-effect relationship (not just association) bewteen the infections and some forms of cancers, and what can be done to reduce one's risk and the disease burden in the population.

    As I mentioned in my post yesterday, there is distinction between a disease being "infectious" and being "contagious", which I acknowledge. I also do not claim that catching an infection that is related to cancer implies 'catching' the cancer (although the reverse may be true - I know, semantics).

    To illustrate my point, a woman with a single partner can say:

    "I caught HPV from my partner."

    but not

    "I caught cervical cancer from my partner."

    but can she say:

    "My partner gave me cervical cancer."?

    By Blogger angry doc, At March 12, 2009 11:27 pm  

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