Is Cancer Contagious?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Cancer 101: Cancer Explained

What is cancer?

Cancer is a disease of uncontrolled multiplication of abnormal cells (malignant cells). Cancer can affect any part of the body. The abnormal growth of cells often results in a mass (tumor) of malignant cells that causes further problems by occupying space used by normal tissues. Cancers cells can also move away from (metastasize) their initial site of development to invade other tissues of the body.

Is cancer contagious?

Cancer is not contagious. Close personal contact with a cancer patient, sexual relationships, kissing, touching, and sharing meals and/or utensils cannot cause other people to have cancer. Rarely, individuals who have received organ transplants from individuals that have cancer may also develop cancer from the transplant. However, currently a stricter screening procedure of organ donors has reduced the risk of transplants that cause cancer in organ recipients. Another very rare instance where cancer is transferred is from a pregnant mother to the fetus. A number of different viruses (human papilloma, Epstein-Barr, hepatitis B), bacteria (Helicobacter pylori) and parasites are associated with various cancers. However, although the viruses and other pathogens may be contagious or simply infectious, the cancers these organisms are associated with are not considered to be contagious.

How will I know if I have cancer?

There are more than 100 types of cancers (including breast cancers, lung cancers, bowel cancers, metastatic cancers, and many more). If you have some of the following symptoms and signs, it would be reasonable to contact your physician and let the physician know you are concerned:

There are various tests your physician can perform to evaluate your particular symptoms.

Cancer Prevention

Prevention of cancer, by avoiding its potential causes, is the simplest method. First on most clinicians and researchers list is to stop (or better, never start) smoking tobacco. Avoiding excess sunlight (by decreasing exposure or applying sunscreen) and many of the chemicals and toxins is an excellent way to avoid cancers.

How does cancer spread?

Cancer is not contagious. However, cancer can spread within the individual as the disease progresses. Cancer cells can disseminate from their original site and spread to other organs through blood and lymph vessels, and by direct extension of the tumor into other organs of the body.

When will I know I am cured of cancer?

Some cancers can be cured while others cannot. A cancer that is no longer evident by physical, radiology, and laboratory evaluations after certain periods of time may be considered by the doctor to be cured. Each form and stage of cancer is different in this regard.

When should I contact a medical caregiver about cancer?

Individuals should contact a medical caregiver if they have symptoms that make them suspect they might have cancer. Individuals who have a family history of certain types of cancer should be regularly checked by a physician. If you are a patient who has cancer, you should seek medical care immediately if you develop a high fever, shortness of breath, intense headaches, vomiting blood or passing blood rectally, chest pain or moderate to severe weakness, passing out (fainting), mental status changes, or seizures.

Medically reviewed by Jay B. Zatzkin, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Medical Oncology

REFERENCE:

"Is Cancer Contagious?" American Cancer Society. Jul 17, 2015. <http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancerbasics/is-cancer-contagious>.

Last Editorial Review: 11/4/2016

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Reviewed on 11/4/2016
References
Medically reviewed by Jay B. Zatzkin, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Medical Oncology

REFERENCE:

"Is Cancer Contagious?" American Cancer Society. Jul 17, 2015. <http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancerbasics/is-cancer-contagious>.

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