- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Several viruses — including some sexually transmitted — and radiation from X-rays have been added to the Department of Health and Human Services’ growing list of cancer-causing agents.

Hepatitis B and C viruses, and some human papillomaviruses (HPV), were among the 17 substances added to a list of 229 cancer-causing agents, according to the 11th edition of the Report on Carcinogens released yesterday.

Dr. Joe S. McIlhaney, president of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health in Austin, Texas, said it was “extremely significant” that HPV and hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HCV) have been identified as “known” carcinogens.

“This brings science into the whole area of prevention,” he said, given that HPVs are sexually transmitted, as are most cases of HBV. The major risk factor for HCV infection is illegal intravenous drug use, the federal report states.

Dr. McIlhaney said 18 strains of HPVs are responsible for about 99 percent of all cervical cancer cases. The report points out that HCV is the “leading cause of liver cancer in the United States,” and that “chronic HBV infections” also cause liver cancer.

As for the cancer-causing viruses identified in the report, Dr. McIlhaney says, it is important for those sexually active to know that condoms do not reduce the risk of HPV transmission. The report says about 20 million Americans are infected with genital HPVs, and 5.5 million new infections occur yearly. Most people infected do not have symptoms.

About 1 million Americans are infected chronically with HBV, and more than 3 million are infected with HCV.

Also listed as “known human carcinogens” in the report are X-radiation and gamma radiation.

“Of the total worldwide exposure to X-radiation and gamma radiation, 55 percent is from low-dose medical diagnosis such as bone, chest and dental X-rays, and 43 percent is from natural sources like radon,” the report says.

Christopher Portier, associate director of the National Toxicology Program, said X-rays have been included on lists of human carcinogens prepared by other international health organizations “for a very long time, at least 10 years.”

“Radiation is so well-known as a carcinogen that we decided to wait and make a full review” before including X-rays, he said.

Mr. Portier added that “evidence is clear” that “very high exposure” to X-rays poses an increased cancer risk. But he says it is “debatable” whether exposure to low-dose medical or dental X-rays has that effect, and it is not certain how many such exposures would be required to cause harm.

“Medical X-ray exposure varies tremendously,” he said.

Mr. Portier recommends that patients consult with their doctors to analyze the risks before undergoing or forgoing X-rays.

Other new listings in the report include lead and lead compounds, compounds found in grilled meats, and a variety of substances used in textile dyes, paints and inks, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, which prepared the report for the health department.

Federal law requires the department to publish the report every two years.


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