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The Link Between Epstein-Barr Virus And Cancer

Is there a link between Epstein-Barr virus and cancer? The answer to this question can be complicated. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a common virus from the herpesvirus family. In fact, medical experts estimate that over 90% of the world’s population has come into contact with EBV. The high infection rate may be primarily due to the fact that once the virus passes into the body – through saliva or other bodily fluids – it stays there for life.

Typically, EBV won’t cause any issues. Many people with an EBV infection may not know they have it at all! In teenagers and young adults, EBV may develop into “the kissing disease” (mononucleosis), which passes with time. However, Epstein-Barr virus and cancer have also been linked. It’s important to discuss the association between these two conditions in order to be aware of the risk factors and the warning signs.

Featured image by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash: Is there a link between Epstein-Barr virus and cancer? In some rare cases, there is.

Epstein-Barr virus and cancer

As previously stated, EBV is a very common infection. Therefore, it’s important to mention that while EBV may increase the risk of developing cancer, not everyone with EBV will have medical complications.

How common is lymphoma after EBV? Only around 1% of cancers worldwide are the result of an EBV infection. There is no way of predicting who this will happen to, but one of the best ways to prevent progression to cancer is by making healthy lifestyle choices.

Which are EBV-associated cancers?

The cancers associated with EBV infection include:

  • Burkitt’s lymphoma: A rare type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that affects the lymphatic system
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma: Cancer of the lymphatic system
  • Nasopharyngeal cancer: Cancer in the pharynx (the part of the throat that connects the back of the nose and the mouth)
  • Certain stomach cancers

These cancers are more commonly linked to EBV in Africa and parts of Southeast Asia than in the USA, where EBV-associated lymphoma and EBV-associated cancers are quite rare. Therefore, high EBV levels and cancer are not the same thing.

What is the role of Epstein-Barr virus in cancer development?

The link between EBV and cancer or EBV and lymphoma arises due to the virus’s ability to cause mutations in cells. These mutations can lead to a process of EBV-induced oncogenesis (the development of cancer). This is more common in cases where the subject is immunocompromised, as those with a weakened immune system may struggle to fend off the virus as it advances.

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Featured image by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash: Epstein-Barr virus and lymphoma are linked in rare cases.

How do you treat EBV lymphoma?

The treatment options for EBV-associated lymphoma are the same as those for other cancers and may include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or stem cell transplants (or a combination of these). Some patients may choose to undergo holistic methods of treatment in addition.

Epstein-Barr virus and cancer: how to reduce the risk

As there is no way to predict the link between Epstein-Barr virus and lymphoma, the best approach is to follow a healthy lifestyle. Due to the widespread nature of EBV (90%+ of the population worldwide), avoiding the virus can be difficult. Likewise, cancers cannot always be prevented. However, please remember that EBV-associated cancers are very rare.

Some tips on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle that reduces the risk of cancer include:

  • Not smoking: Cigarette smoke contains lots of carcinogens, which are linked to the development of cancer. Not only is cigarette smoke incredibly damaging to the lungs, but it affects other parts of the body too. An increasing number of smokers are giving up the habit as ongoing research proves the link between cancer and smoking. If you are finding it difficult to quit smoking, resources exist to help you. Speak to your doctor today for more advice or try over-the-counter remedies such as nicotine patches or gum.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: The best way to stay a healthy size is through a moderate exercise regime and a healthy and varied diet. Do some form of daily movement – preferably an activity that you enjoy! – and try to avoid processed or refined foods as much as possible, opting for whole foods instead. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as lean protein.

Featured image by sporlab on Unsplash: Exercise can help reduce the risk of EBV-associated cancers.

  • Reducing alcohol intake (or giving up completely): Alcohol has been linked to seven different kinds of cancer and can be damaging to the body when consumed in excess.Try to cut down alcohol intake as much as possible.
  • Stay safe in the sun: Avoid spending long periods in direct sunlight, and always wear SPF (preferably 50+) when exposed to the sun’s harmful UV rays. Try to wear light clothing that covers the skin and spend time in the shade as much as possible.
  • Get enough sleep: Getting enough sleep (eight hours per night) is important, as the body carries out vital repairs during this period of rest.

Is there a link between Epstein-Barr virus and cancer?

Epstein-Barr virus can develop into cancer in some cases; however, this is quite rare. As no cure exists for EBV, once contracted, it stays in the body for life. Our tips on how to live a healthier life can help to reduce the risk of EBV-linked cancers developing.

Featured image by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

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