Guest Column

Is cancer contagious?

One of the most common questions when someone is diagnosed with cancer is about the disease being contagious. No, cancer is not contagious. There is no need to avoid the person who has cancer. You can’t catch it. Till date there is no evidence that touching, sharing meals, kissing, sex or breathing the same air can spread cancer from one person to another. The cancer cells cannot usually survive in the healthy person’s body because their immune system will destroy the foreign cancer cells.

In fact cancer is safer than other disease like multi-resistant tuberculosis. Cancer itself is not contagious; however, below are some causes which can predispose a healthy body to cancer.

  • Viruses – Human papilloma virus (HPV) a sexually transmitted infection can cause cervical cancer and other forms of cancer; hepatitis B or C viruses transmitted through sexual intercourse or use of infected IV needles can cause liver cancer; Kaposi sarcoma herpes virus is linked with cancer called as Kaposi sarcoma, usually when there is also an HIV infection.
  • Bacteria – Bacteria can also promote cancer. Helicobacter pylori is a common bacterium linked to stomach cancer.
  • Organ transplants – In rare cases, organ transplants from people with cancer have been able to cause cancer in the person who got the organ. This is because people who get organ transplants must take medicine that weakens their immune system – this stops their immune system from destroying the transplanted organ, but it also allows transplanted cancer cells to survive.
  • Cancer clusters – Cancer sometimes occurs more often in certain families, but it doesn’t mean that family members have spread cancer to each other. This can happen because family members: share the same genes that are associated with an increased risk of cancer or may have similar risk factors for cancer (for example, unhealthy diet, obesity, alcohol use). In addition, there may be clusters of cancer cases among unrelated people when they are exposed to a common source of a cancer-causing substance such as tobacco smoke.
  • DNA changes – Many a times, cancer develops because of mutations (changes) that take place in a person’s DNA, the genetic blueprint in each cell. These changes may be inherited or develop during life. Some changes occur for no reason while others could be because of cigarette smoking or sun (UV) damage.

 

Hence, it’s a common myth that cancer is contagious. If cancer were contagious, we would have cancer epidemics. You don’t have to stay away from someone with cancer. In fact, do visit a person with cancer. They need your visits and support so that they feel isolated and alone.