is cancer contagious?

that’s right, you heard me. now don’t give me no “well retroviruses have been linked to cancer development”. getting HIv and presenting with Kaposi’s sarcoma is a lot different from my question.

here it is. can the introduction of a cancer cell from one person into the system of another lead to cancer? have surgeons ever developed cancer after faulty antiseptic procedures allowed a few tumor-to-be-removed cells into a cut? or even forget surgeons. have there been, for instance, incidents of lung cancer patients coughing up malignant gloobers and transitting the cancer to another?

much thanks.


From somebody relatively well versed but nowhere advanced in the medical field, I would say no. A major part of sustaining a a tumor is providing it with constant food and water. Just like your hampster in 3rd grade.

Kidding; more like oxygen, glucose, etc.

A major tumor would probably have to be transplanted intentionally, just like an organ. You cannot just stick it in there and expect it to grow. Unlike bacteria which is designed to live in a relatively wide range of environments withour constant nourishment.

The smaller pieces of cancer tumors that might get into somebody else somehow are similar to cancerous cells that your immune system already combats routinely. They might be transported into some other cancer patient who is susceptible to cancer, but the tumors in their body already place him at a considerable risk.

So basically, no.

Feel free to point out the major errors in this post, I am sure that they exist.


threemae, what if you transplanted a tumor? would it have better chances at taking hold and surviving, compared to say a liver, or Gervaise?

I don’t have a cite, but I’m sure I’ve read that they’ve induced or transplanted cancer into lab mice for study.

I’m pretty sure the answer is no. One of the main problems with cancer is that your body recognizes cancer cells as native. If you implanted cancer cells from one person to another, they would be seen as foreign and destroyed. If you were a Nazi medical researcher, you could probably make it happen by using protocols similar to those used in transplants - careful screening for close matches and long term immunosuppression - but I don’t think it’s likely to happen accidentally.

Also, jb_farley, there are lots of viruses that are carcinogenic that are contagious, including one of the Hepatitis viruses, IIRC.

No, its not contagious. It’s a local item.

On the other hand – as a cancer survivor, I can no longer donate blood. Cancer is still enough of a mystery that blood from a former cancer patient is not accepted.

Actually, according to the radio guy Dr Dean Edel (not sure on spelling), the answer is yes: there has been one case of an accedentally transplanted cancer. a surgeon cut his thumb while removing a tumor, and then some years later he developed the same type of cancer right where he had cut himself. Unfortunately, i can’t remember too many details, but the program where he mentioned it was about 1-2 years ago.
I would think it very unlikely since another persons cancer cells would usually be recognized as foriegn body by your immune system, but apparantly it is possible.
hope that helps,

Is cancer ‘coded’ to spread? Ferexample, you always hear of someone with advanced lung cancer ending up with a malignant brain tumor after the little beasties spread to the lymph nodes. Is this somehow coded for in the cancer’s genome or is it a ‘mechanical’ process that happens due to prevalent conditions?

not being an oncologist, i offer the following disclaimer:

I am not an oncologist.

I wouldn’t say it’s ‘coded’ to spread. remember, it has basically the same DNA as the rest of you. But ‘coded’ fits better than the prevalent conditions theory.

for whatever reason (radiation, chemical means, etc) stretches of the DNA get damaged and changed. most of these new genes knock out the cell’s ability to kill itself, or keep the rest of the body from killing it.

so what you have is a cell in the body that wants to keep dividing. it’s doing what all other cells (probably most, not all) do at times, but gone haywire.

if a stray cancer cell gets into the bloodstream or lymph system, it can set up shop elsewhere in the body and divide and divide and divide. it’s not like the cancer is going “Must spread everywhere, must kill body”, but (in your best Lost in Space robot voice “Divide divide divide!”)

this is way too simplistic of an answer, but there you go.


p.s.- another question that popped up as i was writing this- can cancer cells cause adjoining cells to become cancerous, or do they just divide like crazy and crowd the others out?

I don’t think the issue of at least some cancers being caused by viruses is in dispute. Those forms of cancer, at least, can probably be considered “contagious,” although the cancer is more of a symptom than the disease itself.

Isn’t leprousy a cancer ? I vaguely recall in the early stage it can be contageous.

Unclean, Unclean !
(Just sprung to mind, any relevance ? )

No. Leprosy is a disease caused by a bacterial infection. Yes, it is contagious:

There are actually two types of leprosy: Wet and dry. Wet leprosy is pretty contagious. Dry leprosy is not. Both are chronic bacterial infections of the skin that cause necrosis (cell death) and eventually kill you. These days we can extend the lives of those with leprosy through use of drugs and prosthesis of whatever rots off. Leprosy: Just say no!

Disclaimer: I am not a physician, merely a corpsman, formerly in the U.S. Navy.

I have it on good authority that CERTAIN types of cancer cells will reproduce in a new host. One that specifically comes to mind is liver cancer. It is most virulent, and will metastasize if introduced into the blood stream of a different person.


vidi vici veni