This common infection can lead to cancer
November 29th, 2015 by Holly Cornish
You can easily pick up an infection that may lead to cancer. As a matter of fact, globally, up to 20 percent of cancers are linked to infections.1
And one of the biggest cancer dangers comes from a tiny menace that is almost everywhere – the infectious viruses that have been said to form a “viral cloud” that surrounds each of us.2
How much of a danger to these microbes pose? Let’s take a look. . .
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There’s no doubt that these potentially dangerous viruses are probably in and on your body already as well as in the air around you. Most of these viruses will never hurt you or cause problems as long as your immune system functions well.
But if your immune system slips up, or a cancer-related virus camouflages itself so the immune system doesn’t sense its presence, it can lead to an infection that eventually leads to a tumor.
Viruses are highly specialized
Viruses are so small, they’re not considered microscopic, they’re submicroscopic – too tiny to see under a normal microscope. Each virus is basically a bundle of proteins that encloses a small fragment of genetic material. Unlike bacteria, which can reproduce rapidly on their own, viruses need to infect living cells in order to multiply and make copies of themselves.
And for each virus, not any living cell will do as a host. Although they sometimes cross from species to species, viruses usually specialize in infecting one type of organism. Each strain of virus makes its home in a particular plant or animal — or in other microbes.
This specialization goes even further. Most viruses that infect humans specialize in one part of the body. Once in the right location (assuming the immune system doesn’t destroy it), a virus can inject itself into a target cell and force the cell to replicate the virus’s genetic material.
Head and neck cancer in men
For men, the rising incidence of head and neck cancer is a growing concern that is linked to the widespread virus called HPV, the human papillomavirus that can live in the mouth and throat.
There are about 150 different types of HPV which can infect the genitals and the skin as well as just about any part of the body that has a mucous membrane.
In the mouth and throat, men are much more vulnerable to these viruses than women. Men suffer from oral HPV infection five times more frequently than women.
An HPV infection in a man’s throat multiplies his risk of throat cancer 14 times over. Read that carefully: It doesn’t double the risk, or triple it. It boosts it by 14 times. The infections usually start growing on the tonsils or the back of the tongue.
The link between having an HPV infection in the throat and developing oral cancer was first made in 2007, so researchers don’t yet understand all of its implications.
But they have discovered that about seven percent of all Americans aged 14 to 69 have an oral HPV infection. That includes one man out of ten but only about one woman out of 30.3
“This is clearly important because HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer is poised to overtake cervical cancer as the leading type of HPV-caused cancers in the U.S.,” says Maura Gillison, M.D., Ph.D., who engages in cancer research at Ohio State. “And, we currently do not have (any) means by which to prevent or detect these cancers early.”
How to avoid HPV infection
Part of the secret to lowering your risk of HPV in your mouth and throat is to maintain good oral health – brush your teeth, floss and get regular dental checkups.
Poor mouth health, including gum disease and festering dental problems, is linked to a bigger chance of being infected with HPV 16, the type of HPV that lives in the mouth and throat, according to research at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center.4
“Poor oral health is a new independent risk factor for oral HPV infection …” says researcher Thanh Cong Bui, Ph.D. “The good news is, this risk factor is modifiable — by maintaining good oral hygiene and good oral health, one can prevent HPV infection and subsequent HPV-related cancers.”
Bui’s study shows that people who practice poor oral health habits have a 56 percent higher rate of oral HPV infection compared to people who take care of their teeth and gums.
Untreated dental problems by themselves raise the HPV infection risk by 51 percent and periodontal disease moves it up by 28 percent. And every tooth you lose as you age increases your chances of HPV.
But the Texas study shows that smoking tobacco and/or marijuana also increases your chances of oral HPV, as does engaging in oral sex.
The researchers say that HPV needs an injury to your gums, mouth or throat (like a small cut) to get into the mucous coating in your mouth and start an infection.
Consequently, they believe that mouth ulcers and inflammation provide tiny breaches in the body’s defenses that allow HPV to get into your cells.
“Oral hygiene is fundamental for oral health, so good oral hygiene practices should become a personal habit,” says Bui.
Going after oral cancer
Along with good dental practices, a natural way to fend off oral cancer may be turmeric, the beneficial yellow spice traditionally used in Indian cuisine.
Curcumin, an antioxidant natural chemical extracted from turmeric, seems to be a powerful chemical weapon against HPV. Curcumin has probably overtaken the whole spice turmeric as the preferred supplement.
“Turmeric has established antiviral and anti-cancer properties,” says researcher Alok Mishra of Emory University. “And according to our new findings, we could say that it’s good for oral health too.”
The Emory research, which has been going on for more than a decade, first examined curcumin’s effect on HPV and cervical cancer. The results show that curcumin hampers the expression of HPV – limiting the spread of the virus in the cervix.
“Since HPV-related oral cancer cases are on the rise, we tested the same hypothesis on oral cancer,” Dr. Mishra says.
He found that curcumin restricts HPV in the mouth and throat by slowing the activity of cellular transcription factors AP-1 and NF-kB. (Transcription factors affect how DNA behaves and reproduces.)
As you know if you’ve been reading this newsletter, I’m a big fan of turmeric. So Dr. Mishra’s research reinforces my faith in eating turmeric-rich dishes and taking turmeric supplements.
And I would add that if you use or take turmeric, stick to organic turmeric and avoid turmeric from China or India which can be contaminated with lead. The organic variety improves your odds of getting the best bang for your supplement dollar.
Would you like to live longer? (I’m guessing the answer is yes.) If so – and if you missed the article in our last issue, scroll down and read it now.