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Is Cancer Contagious?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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While some animal cancers have been found to be contagious, no human form has yet been found contagious. Certain contagious illnesses can, however, cause cancer in humans. These illnesses are not passed through cancerous cells but through the viruses causing the disease. Additionally, some behaviors are thought to be contagious, or at least may cause exposure to cancer-causing agents. In this case, the cancer cells are not contagious, but the behaviors that cause them, like smoking, may be more likely to occur in family groups.

Some viruses have a direct link to certain cancers. For example, some forms of human papillomavirus (HPV) are now indicated as a primary cause of all cervical cancers, and may also cause penile cancer. There are only a few types of human papillomavirus that cause such diseases, and not everyone who has the virus will get cancer. All types of HPV that can cause it are sexually transmitted.

Another sexually transmitted illness that is indicated in a form of cancer is human herpes virus 8 (HHV8). It has been linked to the development of Kaposi’s sarcoma and is almost always incorrectly identified as being caused by AIDS. This misunderstanding occurs because those with HIV and AIDS are at a much greater risk for contracting HHV8.

Certain behaviors may predispose people toward certain types of cancer and disease. For example, those who smoke not only run the risk of contracting lung cancer, but also may increase the risk for others around whom they smoke. Additionally, children of parents who smoke are more likely to smoke themselves. So in an nontraditional sense this behavior can be thought to be “contagious.”

Alcoholism is another form of indirectly “contagious” behavior that increases risk for both stomach and liver cancer. Children of alcoholics are more likely to become alcoholics. While this may be in part behavioral, there may also be genetic factors that predispose people toward addiction. In these cases behavior passed from one generation to the next can increase risk of certain forms of cancer.

In the traditional sense of "contagious," most forms of cancer cannot be passed to another person. However, the recent discovery of HPV’s role in cervical cancer raises questions about whether others may be the result of exposure to certain viruses or bacteria. Scientists continue to research this area in the hope of finding more ways to both cure and prevent these diseases.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon183182 — On Jun 04, 2011

my mother has cancer on her upper lip. It is looking reddish with pus. Is it contagious?

By anon134218 — On Dec 14, 2010

My mom is refusing her chemo, because she's crippled with rheumatoid arthritis, and is in a lot of pain with that. What am I in for taking care of her?

I feel bad for her, and I try to give her her water pill, to help her and she says it bothers her. She thinks it's chemo. I love her very much and the doctor says if she doesn't want to be treated she doesn't have to be. I don't know how I feel about that.

I'm very saddened, but what can you do? She's already suffering with rheumatoid arthritis.

By anon99984 — On Jul 28, 2010

Sex, love and blood will not spread cancer. Cancer, in, and of itself, is a highly genetic disorder/disease.

By anon97009 — On Jul 17, 2010

Virus = Cancer

In the future they will find out that all cancers are viruses, some we get from mum, others we catch while alive.

Some viruses turn into cancer quickly while other viruses take a lifetime to become full blown cancer. The Tassy devil for me has put it beyond reasonable doubt. --pete

By anon89142 — On Jun 08, 2010

i need to know if stomach cancer is contagious when someone is having sex?

By anon73177 — On Mar 25, 2010

Is cancer contagious? Please let me know about this in what way it is contagious? please explain.

By anon44151 — On Sep 05, 2009

I understand that the cervical cancer is caused by a virus. Is the virus contagious or -can it be transmitted by a male sexual partner to another female?

By anon42947 — On Aug 24, 2009

cancer is very contagious. It's a common misconception that it's not. If you can get cancer from someone's else blood, you can get in any other way.

By anon30136 — On Apr 14, 2009

DFTD is devil facial tumor disease. The only reason it is contagious is because of a genetic bottle neck in the population of Tasmanian devils in recent history. That means that all of the existing Tasmanian devils are closely related. When a cancer cell from one individual makes it to another, the new host recognizes the cell as it's own, and does not kill it. The only other contagious cancer is in dogs.

You cannot get cancer from another human. As of now it's impossible. The reason we fight off cancer, or don't fight off cancer is recognition. The original cancer cell was not recognized as haywire, and allowed to live. It's not that the persons body couldn't fight off the cancer, it just didn't. Now if you receive a cancer cell from someone else, your body will immediately recognize the proteins in the lipid bilayer and lymphocytes will kill it. Cancer that spawns within you is harder to detect, because it is your own cell, it's part of you. Often a cancerous cell still has the same abilities as a healthy cell, so it will detect that something is wrong with it and it sends out hormones to attract lymphocytes to kill it. And sometimes these pathways are damaged or a part of the mutation, so they no longer work, making the cancer harder to stop.

By anon21313 — On Nov 13, 2008

of course not! Your immune system will kill it because it is non-self. Cancer patients have the problem that it is "self" and therefore doesn't kill it.

By anon17252 — On Aug 25, 2008

I don't understand... If a cancer cell multiplies rapidly it ends up spreading in the body... (another words it is contagious in the body). If some blood (tainted) got into another person's blood, should that not also spread in their body too? Even at that there would not be a way to tell because cancer can spread very slowly... especially in a healthy victim.

By bookworm — On Jul 18, 2008

anon 7368 - According to a study conducted by the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, you are not more likely to get cancer if you receive blood from someone who has cancer or is precancerous at the time of his donation. Still, most cancer patients are not allowed to donate blood. You might want to check that study for more detailed information.

By anon15622 — On Jul 16, 2008

Both DFTD and Sticker’s sarcoma are transmittable parasitic cancers in their host animals.

By anon7368 — On Jan 24, 2008

If I receive blood donated by a person with cancer, will I get cancer?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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