Is Cancer Contagious: Can We Pass Cancer To Others?
The short answer would be No, but we will attempt to explain further and answer the question: “Is cancer contagious?” In contrast to viruses and other infectious diseases, we cannot contaminate others with cancer. No reason to be avoided or abandon (sexual) contact, hugs or doing things together. Some treatments (immune-, or chemotherapy) can reduce, however, significantly our immune system (defence against diseases), and in this case doctors’ advice to avoid others having a cold or being sick and places like trains, metro, shopping centers and swimming pools where many bugs jump around must be taken at heart.
Cancer develops because something is going wrong when controlling growth (multiplying) cells, due to errors in overwriting the hereditary material, called genes or DNA. Most errors get repaired, but when they persist, we call them mutations, they will be carried on in any new cells. If more than 5 errors accumulate, cells die or can become cancer, starting to duplicate uncontrollably.
We can be born with already some DNA damage (5% of cancers develop young because of inherited mutations), but far out most mutations happen because of something we are exposed to, such as in food, our work, air, chemicals, cigarette smoke or sunlight. These things are called carcinogens.
They are not inherited and can’t be passed on to our children. They are called acquired mutations. Cancers caused by acquired mutations are called sporadic cancers.
Some specific cancers (breast, ovarian, colon, leukemia) can be inherited from a parent and are called hereditary cancers. In these cases, cancer gets diagnosed relatively early in life.
Some of these mutations are now known and a test-kit can be asked to determine family risk. We inherit genes from both our parents. If one of our parents has a gene fault then each child has a 1 in 2 chance (50%) of inheriting it. So some children will have the faulty gene and an increased risk of developing cancer and other children won’t.
Overall, genetics specialists estimate that only about 2 or 3 in every 100 cancers diagnosed (2 to 3%) are linked to a hereditary syndrome.
The risk of your family depends on:
1)Several relatives on the same side of your family have had cancer – the same side of your family means either your father’s relatives or your mother’s relatives
2) The relatives have had the same type of cancer or different cancers that can be caused by the same gene error (breast and ovarian or colon and uterus)
3)The cancers developed when the family members were relatively young, below the age of 50
4) One of your relatives has had a gene error found by genetic tests
It is important to remember that cancer is most common in people over the age of 60 and is rarer in young people. So cancer in older people is less likely to be due to an inherited cancer gene.
Many mutations need to be in place for cancer to develop. Because the other factors are not always in place, cancer may seem to skip a generation. A parent may have the gene and not develop cancer but their child who inherits the same gene can develop cancer.
We need more research to find out what these other factors are for each type of cancer. We also need to find out more about how genes work together to cause cancer so that we can reduce the risk of developing it.
For greater insight into interacting with those suffering from the issues mentioned in the article or if you would like to chat with others affected, I highly recommend joining the app, Reachout.
Elizabeth Charlotte Moser (1973) is a radiation oncologist, healthcare director, advisor and a teacher in Cancer research & treatment. Her work has been focused on modern and targeted therapies, survivorship issues and costs efficiency of cancer care.