Do Vaccines Cause Cancer? Is There A Link?

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The risk of developing cancer increases with age. In developed societies, cancer is the second leading cause of death after cardiovascular disease, and accounts for approximately 25% of deaths. There are According to many scientists and medical experts, the development of vaccinations has revolutionized the health care industry. The World Health Organization recently reported that immunization prevents as many as three million deaths each year (1). These deaths are prevented among people of all ages - it is not only children that are advised to get vaccines but also adults and senior citizens.

 

Even though vaccines now play a critical role in protecting young and old, there are several concerns that have been raised regarding these injections. In 2018, a total of 116 million immunizations against pertussis, tetanus, and diphtheria were provided to children around the world (2). While this may seem like a significant statistics, there are still millions who have not yet received the vaccine.

One reason why many have not yet gained access to vaccinations is due to the potential side-effects and dangers that have been associated with some of these injections. Apart from the standard side-effects, there have been reports of increased cancer risks in the past as well. Today, we look at studies that consider the potential link between vaccines and cancer - and see whether there is a positive or negative relationship to be noted here.

The Adverse Effects Associated With Vaccinations

While vaccinations provide a vital function when it comes to reducing the risk of catching certain viruses and infections, as well as reducing the likeliness of developing certain diseases, there is a number of adverse effects that have been associated with these injections.

Some of the possible side-effects that may be experienced following vaccination include (3):

Carcinogens in the Diet

In the diet we can find various substances that are related to the risk of developing cancer:

●       Fever

●       Shivering

●       Fatigue

●       Headache

●       Muscle pain

●       Joint pain

There is often some inflammation, accompanied by redness and pain, at the area where the injection was made.

In most cases, if any side-effects do develop, then they tend to be on the mild side. Thus, there really is no significant concern regarding these possible adverse effects that a person may experience when they do get immunized against a specific or a range of diseases and infections.

There is one particular adverse effect that needs more concern - and that is an allergic reaction. Fortunately, an allergic reaction to a vaccine is exceptionally rare and can usually be treated relatively quickly by the medical professional who is administering the injection. Symptoms tend to develop quickly after the vaccine has been provided to the person.


Vaccinations And Cancer: What You Need To Know

There have been many myths about vaccinations that were spread over the internet and, in some cases, even in local publications. This has caused a significant number of people to be unsure whether they should obtain immunization against the common flu, as well as other infectious diseases that might be spreading in the local area. Parents also often become concerned when such myths are being reported, unsure as to whether or not they should get a vaccine for their child.

 

Currently, when it comes to vaccinations and cancer, the good news is that being immunized against a specific virus or other types of infectious disease has not been associated an increased risk of cancer.


This is not where the good news stops, however. Below, we are going to take a closer look at a couple of studies that have been done on vaccinations - what you will notice is another reason why being vaccinated is so important. There are several studies that have now confirmed that being vaccinated could ultimately help to reduce the risk of certain cancers, instead of causing a cancer-related scare for the person being immunized.

Food of Animal Origin

In some studies it has been found that feeding with a high meat content could be associated with an increased risk of gastric cancer. It is particularly important to avoid meats prepared with nitrites. These foods should be consumed only occasionally and accompanied by vitamin C to alleviate the effects of nitrosamines. Several studies have shown that high consumption of red meat increases mortality in patients with lung cancer, colorectal, prostate and breast cancers.

Epidemiological studies indicate that populations that consume diets rich in smoked, salted and marinated foods have a higher incidence of esophageal and stomach cancer, at least in part due to its content in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. There is evidence that preservatives in meats and fish increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

Why Do Some People Think Vaccines May Cause Cancer

To this date, there are not any large studies that have provided evidence of vaccines that lead to a higher risk of cancer. Yet, some publications on the internet have claimed that a person may be more likely to develop this disease if they received certain types of vaccines.

The most likely reason why such assumptions have been made would come from a vaccine that was administered to patients during the period 1955 to 1963. A publication by the Institute of Medicine’s Immunization Safety Review Committee explains that during this time period, a specific virus came into contact with the Polio vaccine of the time (4). The virus was known as SV40 and was linked to a possible increased risk of cancer.

More recent research has not yielded further evidence of this risk, however, the committee did note that the research does not provide sufficient evidence. Further research may still be needed in order to provide more accurate details.

Thus, even though there was a possible higher risk of cancer linked to this particular vaccine, it is important to note here that the only reason was due to the contamination with the SV40 virus, which is not part of the Polio vaccine. The contamination is also no longer present in the modern-day Polio vaccines that are provided to patients.

Current Evidence On Vaccines And Cancer

Now that we have taken a look at a publication that did cause a cancer scare among people who received a very specific type of vaccination, we want to turn our focus toward more recent studies. One thing that is noted recently is that many studies are actually starting to provide evidence that vaccines could be good in terms of lowering the risk of cancer.

The main reason behind this is because there are certain viruses that are known to cause changes to the DNA of the human body (such as HPV, human papilloma virus). When these changes occur, it could lead to certain changes in genetic activity expressed by cells in the body. The result can then be an increased likelihood of these cells becoming cancerous; thus essentially leading to the formation of cancer and tumors.

When a vaccine is provided to protect against a virus, the risk of being infected with these microorganisms is reduced (5). This protection may also reduce the risk of developing cancer that has been associated with the virus.

 

To provide an overview of these claims, we want to take a look at a study that was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology (6). Multiple researchers conducted a study in order to determine current factors that seem to be linked to childhood leukemia. Study subjects included in the research were all children aged from 0 up to 15 years. Data were collected for children diagnosed with the disease between the years 1990 and 1994. A total of 399 cases were included in the study.

Several factors were analyzed during the study period in order to see what may increase the risk of childhood leukemia, and also find what factors could potentially provide a reduced risk.

 

Following the study period, researchers noted a possible increased risk of developing leukemia during childhood among subjects who took immunosuppressant drugs during a period of six months or longer. It was also found that the use of certain vitamin supplements could yield an increased risk of developing childhood leukemia.

When the researchers turned their focus toward immunization, it was found that there seems to be a reduced risk. The researchers noted in the discussion of the study that immunization might play a protective role among children. When the appropriate vaccinations were provided to children at a young age, it decreased their exposure to viruses and other microorganisms that might have effects on the child's DNA and genetic functioning that could lead to a risk of cancer.

 

This is, of course, only one of the studies that demonstrated evidence that the use of vaccinations seems to play a positive role in potentially reducing the incidence of cancers, especially when considering cancer types that are caused by DNA changes from the infestation of viruses in the human body.

The study provided further evidence that three particular vaccines seem to have the most significant impact on reducing the risk of childhood leukemia. These vaccinations consist of the BCG vaccination, which is used to prevent tuberculosis, the DTP vaccination, and the Hib (Haemophilus Influenzae type B) vaccine.

 

Additional evidence strongly support that current HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccination, reduces the likelihood of developing cervical cancer, anal cancer and oropharyngeal cancer in both men and women.  Several subtypes of HPV strongly associated with cerebral and DNA damage within the lining of mucous membranes, vaginal and anal vaults, associated with damage from viral infection, with a strong association towards cancer transformation of the cells after prolonged exposure.  The primary mechanism by reducing these cancers among young men and women is by reducing the risk of transmission of the human papilloma virus, which is projected to decrease HPV infection by about 200,000 amongst young woman thereby reducing the risk of cervical cancer by about 3300 cases per year.

For men, the risk of transmission and subsequent infection may be cut by upwards of 90%, according to some studies. 

Conclusion

When it comes to cancer and vaccines, it is crucial to note that being vaccinated against a virus or other disease has not been associated with development of cancerous tumors. In fact, studies have demonstrated that appropriate immunizations could actually provide a decrease in the risk of developing cancers, including leukemia in children, and certainly HPV–associated cancers of the cervix, anus and oropharynx.



Sources

(1) Immunization. World Health Organization. 18 Jul 2019. https://www.who.int/news-room/facts-in-pictures/detail/immunization

(2) Immunization. UNICEF DATA. Jul 2019. https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-health/immunization/

(3) Why vaccination is safe and important. NHS. 29 Jul 2019. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/why-vaccination-is-safe-and-important/

(4) Immunization Safety Review: SV40 Contamination of Polio Vaccine and Cancer. K. Stratton, D.A. Almario, M.C. McCormic. Institute of Medicine (US) Immunization Safety Review Committee. 2002. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25057632

(5) Vaccines Can Help Prevent Cancer. Cancer Research Institute. https://www.cancerresearch.org/join-the-cause/cancer-immunotherapy-month/30-facts/10

(6) Risk of Childhood Leukemia Associated with Vaccination, Infection, and Medication Use in Childhood: The Cross-Canada Childhood Leukemia Study. A.C. MacArthur, M.L. McBride, J.J. Spinelli, S. Tamaro, R.P. Gallagher, G.P. Theriault. American Journal of Epidemiology. 12 Dec 2007. https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/167/5/598/211885