Other infections and cancer

A pair of Schistosoma haematobium blood worms

Parasites and cancer

Three types of parasite can cause cancer in humans. This includes:

  • Two small liver worms (Clonorchis sinensis and Opisthorchis viverrini)
  • A blood worm (Schistosoma haematobium).

All three of these parasites are extremely rare in the UK.

The liver worms Clonorchis sinensis and Opisthorchis viverrini can cause bile duct cancer (a type of liver cancer). They are commonly found in Asian countries, such as China, Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Both these parasites are spread through contaminated food, particularly through undercooked fish.

The blood worm Schistosoma haematobium can cause bladder cancer. It is common in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. This parasite lives in water in these regions, so it is best not to swim in slow-flowing waters to avoid infection.

Human T-Lymphotropic Virus 1 (HTLV-1)

Human T-Lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) can cause a type of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma called ‘Adult T-Cell Leukaemia/Lymphoma’.

All cases of Adult T-cell leukaemia are linked to HTLV-1. But infection with this virus is very rare in the UK. And most people who carry the HTLV-1 virus will not develop cancer because of it.

The virus spreads through blood and other bodily fluids. People can get infected by sharing contaminated needles or razors, or through unprotected sex. It’s also possible to get infected through blood transfusions. But in the UK, this is rare because blood is checked before it is donated. To avoid infection, it’s best to use a condom for sex and to avoid sharing needles or razors.

The virus can also be spread from mother to child, mainly through breastfeeding. But in the UK very few pregnant women are infected. If you’re pregnant and know you have HTLV-1, speak to your doctor.

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