Covid might be to blame for an uptick in rare cancers

Rare types of cancer are showing up in higher numbers since the Covid-19 pandemic. Doctors suspect that the virus itself may be contributing to the higher cancer rates, despite a solid connection not yet being established. The pandemic may have permanently altered the bodies of those infected, making them more susceptible to cancer. Those affected include people who were otherwise previously healthy. 

What do cancer trends look like?

Doctors have identified a marked increase in late-stage rarer cancers in people who had otherwise been healthy. Lung, blood and colon cancer, especially, have been rising in younger people. Specifically, medical experts have observed a rise in new cancer patients, multiple patients with multiple cancers, couples and siblings developing cancer within months of each other and cancer patients relapsing after years of remission. 

The trend has been particularly noticeable since the Covid-19 pandemic. “This is an observation that has piqued the researchers’ and clinicians’ interest, that, is there an association with Covid, especially long Covid and cancer?” Dr. Suraj Saggar, chief of infectious disease at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, New Jersey, said to Fox 5 New York.

Cancer is caused by errors in genetic code within cells. “The human body is made up of trillions of cells in a constant state of growth, repair and death,” said The Washington Post. “Most of the time, cells with damaged DNA fix themselves, or simply disappear. Sometimes, they start collecting mistakes in their genetic code and rampage out of control into tumors.” 

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What is more alarming is the prevalence of people suffering from more than one type of cancer. “Having multiple forms of cancer at the same time has also become more prevalent. Cancers typically start in one part of the body and spread,” the Post said. “It’s rare for discrete cancers to begin in different parts of the body during a short window.” 

What could be causing the rise?

Some scientists posit that the Covid virus itself could be contributing to the higher numbers of cancer diagnoses, especially for those who are suffering from long Covid. “The idea that some viruses can cause or accelerate cancer is hardly new,” said the Post. “Scientists have recognized this possibility since the 1960s, and today, researchers estimate 15% to 20% of all cancers worldwide originate from infectious agents such as HPV, Epstein-Barr and hepatitis B.” 

Because “infection with SARS-CoV-2 occurs in several organs either directly or indirectly, it is expected that cancer stem cells may develop in multiple organs,” said a 2023 study published in the journal Biochimie. Lung, colorectal, pancreatic and oral cancer could particularly be exacerbated. 

While not officially confirmed, the virus is said to cause full-body inflammation. “Inflammation triggers many genetic changes in a genome that can create a propensity of developing cancer in certain individuals,” Dr. Kashyap Patel, CEO of Carolina Blood and Cancer Care Associates, said to News Nation. “We are completely under-investigating this virus,” Douglas C. Wallace, a geneticist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Pennsylvania, said to the Post. “The effects of repeatedly getting this throughout our lives is going to be much more significant than people are thinking.”

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