Can You Give Someone Cancer?

By Veronique Greenwood | January 4, 2012 11:52 am

Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, has speculated that the fact that he and four other South American leaders have all recently come down with various cancers could be a sign that the US has developed methods to give people cancer. Uh, is that even possible? Slate‘s Explainer does a thorough, interesting walk-through of all the reasons why the answer is, “Not reliably.”

You could…contaminate the victim’s diet with high levels of aflatoxin, which is associated with liver cancer. Or you could infect him with any of a number of cancer-causing biological agents. Helicobacter pylori contributes to the development of gastric cancer, and human papillomaviruses can cause cervical, anal, and a few other forms of cancer. But these tactics probably wouldn’t produce cancer in the short term and aren’t guaranteed to have any effect at all. In countries with high aflatoxin exposure, like China and parts of Africa, fewer than 1 in 1,000 people develop liver cancer.

If we knew how to give people cancer reliably, we might be better at preventing it. As it stands, cancer prevention, except for a few stand outs like quitting smoking, is can be just as hit-or-miss as cancer contraction.

Read more at Slate.

Image courtesy of nicogenin / flickr


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Toni

    you might as well send a fulminating lightning volt. More effective in removing idiots from power.

  • David Little

    A while back, I recall reading an interesting article on how the Tasmanian devils are being killed by a cancer that is spread by them biting each other when one has cancer. Sadly, I can no longer find the link. However, if that is the case, then it might be possible to give someone cancer if you managed to slip cancerous tissue into their body without them noticing. Good luck there.

  • Don Staggers RN

    I know that you cannot give a person cancer. Cancer happens due to cellular changes in the body; But, I do not blame him for wondering. I Love my country, proud to be an American but I do not trust our government. How can anyone trust the US of A when we gave our own soldiers LSD in the fifties, broke over 370 treatys with native Americans oh, and don’t forget the gautamalens that we purpesly infected with syphalis for medical experimintation.

  • steven wright

    I can agree with Don STAGGER about not trusting the government, hugo chavez’s reason for skepticism and the difficult reliability of proving or actually doing it.

    I don’t buy the “if the us knew how to give people cancer, they would of prevented it already’ because that implies a view of the government that doesn’t work with mine. I imagine THE WATCHMEN where people are getting cancer for political reasons and its very mysterious, is it really Dr. Atom or is it smoking cigarettes?

    I’m glad atleast this article vies for the chemical-iniation theory of cancer rather than the other ones out there that reduce it to genomes.

  • rob

    You better trust the government now with ndaa they have to right to use the military on american soil to hold you indefinitely without trial or even charges.

  • Frank Glover

    “I don’t buy the “if the us knew how to give people cancer, they would of prevented it already’ because that implies a view of the government that doesn’t work with mine.”

    Well *that’s* a reliable basis for indictment…

  • Dave C.

    My guess is too many Cuban cigars.

  • Shawn

    Mabey the government knows how to solve cancer but fears that we would be over populated

  • dave chamberlin

    Hugo Chavez is an idiot. He has a long history of saying rediculous things. If we did have access to his blood stream and we wanted this fool dead there are about 1000 infectious diseases that would be the preferred options. Anyway he loves to divert attention away from his mismanagement of government to conspiracies blaming the United States, which might be the smartest thing he does.

  • Stephen

    One would have to think that our government would focus on curing cancer before cultivating methods of spreading it.

  • Stephen

    I disagree with Shawn’s post about whether or not the government could cure cancer, mainly because the cons of keeping the cure a secret would overrule the pros. Sure, keeping a cure secret might decrease the world’s population, but if the news of a cure was ever leaked, the government would have to deal with the wrath of the country. If this were to occur, the angriest Occupy Wall Street protester would look like a mildly irked preschooler.

  • Iain

    Hmm, the President of Iran was visiting Mr Chavez recently and now he’s spouting ridiculous nonsense. Maybe there’s a connection there.

  • Mix

    Of course we know how to cause cancer. We do it in lab animals. Radiation can trigger cancer fairly quickly, and carcinogenic chemicals like benzene can too. They’re pretty reliable – at least in the lab, with lab animals, at high levels of exposure. But the results of that would look a lot more suspicious and uniform than five people in the same older age group getting the various types of cancer people get naturally. I figure Chavez is pretty paranoid already, and a cancer diagnosis will wig out anybody.

    Remember Alexander Litvenenko? He was poisoned too fast for his radiation exposure to result in cancer, but I’d assume it would be possible to poison someone more slowly and subtly.


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