Infections with certain viruses, bacteria, and parasites are strong risk factors for specific cancers. As new cancer statistics and epidemiological findings have accumulated in the past 5 years, we aimed to assess the causal involvement of the main carcinogenic agents in different cancer types for the year 2012.
We considered ten infectious agents classified as carcinogenic to human beings by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. We calculated the number of new cancer cases in 2012 attributable to infections by country, by combining cancer incidence estimates (from GLOBOCAN 2012) with estimates of attributable fraction (AF) for the infectious agents. AF estimates were calculated from the prevalence of infection in cancer cases and the relative risk for the infection (for some sites). Estimates of infection prevalence, relative risk, and corresponding 95% CIs for AF were obtained from systematic reviews and pooled analyses.
Of 14 million new cancer cases in 2012, 2·2 million (15·4%) were attributable to carcinogenic infections. The most important infectious agents worldwide were Helicobacter pylori (770 000 cases), human papillomavirus (640 000), hepatitis B virus (420 000), hepatitis C virus (170 000), and Epstein-Barr virus (120 000). Kaposi's sarcoma was the second largest contributor to the cancer burden in sub-Saharan Africa. The AFs for infection varied by country and development status—from less than 5% in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and some countries in western and northern Europe to more than 50% in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
A large potential exists for reducing the burden of cancer caused by infections. Socioeconomic development is associated with a decrease in infection-associated cancers; however, to reduce the incidence of these cancers without delay, population-based vaccination and screen-and-treat programmes should be made accessible and available.