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Approximately 20% of all cancers in the world result from infectious agents such as viruses and bacteria. The majority of these are found in low and middle income countries. Modern air travel, urbanization, and continued economic globalization bring the world and with it the world’s disease closer every year.

Irving Hoffman, Professor and U.S. Director, UNC Project-Malawi

Hepatitis B and C viruses are associated with liver cancer. Epstein-Barr virus and Kapok’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus are associated with lymphomas, solid cancers like nasopharyngeal carcinoma in Southern China and Kaposi’s sarcoma. Helicobacter pylori is associated with a sub-set of gastric cancers. These are just a few examples. In countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, Kaposi’s sarcoma is 3 times more prevalent that prostate cancer in the US.

These cancers are rapid and devastating, but they offer a unique scientific opportunity. For some of these infectious agents, effective preventative measures already exist. Examples are drugs against Helicobacter and vaccines against hepatitis B virus and human papilloma virus. Thus, like other preventative strategies e.g. tobacco control to prevent lung and oral cancers, preventing infections with the agents listed above should reduce the global burden of cancer.

UNC Lineberger member , Carol Shores, MD, PhD, FACS, started to conduct innovative clinical trials in Burkitt lymphoma (BL), which is the most common pediatric cancer in sub-Saharan Africa and is associated with Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). Since 2014 this work has been continued by UNC Lineberger member Satish Gopal as part of the Malawi Cancer Consortium, which is supported through cooperative grant from the National Cancer Institute.