We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

Can You Give Someone Cancer?

By Veronique Greenwood
Jan 4, 2012 4:52 PMOct 18, 2019 4:10 PM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

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

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.