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.
Image courtesy of nicogenin / flickr