In a bizarre note, the late president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez claimed that he was deliberately infected with a type of cancer.
Chavez was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 to which he eventually succumbed in early 2013. Verifiable cases of human-to-human transmission of any form of cancer are incredibly rare. Thus, while his claim is highly unlikely, it is not completely outside the realm of possibility. There was an isolated case reported, where a patient afflicted with a type of sarcoma transmitted it to a surgeon during an operation where the doctor’s hand was injured. It is also possible to acquire cancer from an organ donation if the donor material possessed cancer cells.
Addressing the idea of using cancer as a murder weapon to deliberately give someone a lethal form of cancer, most scientists and doctors would argue that it is improbable. Given that the known transmissible cancers tend to successfully perpetuate themselves among genetically similar organisms, it has been hypothesized that genetically diverse species such as humans are not suitable hosts. Thus, it is unlikely that a contagious cancer could be responsible for Hugo Chavez’s cancer. However, apart from transmissible cancer, it is possible to infect someone with a cancer-causing virus such as a papillomavirus that is known to cause cervical cancer, but the outcome of inoculating someone against their will with such a virus is far from certain.
In the end, the study of contagious cancers can provide valuable insights into how these totally foreign cellular invaders are able to blind the host’s immune system to their presence. And finding ways to circumvent that unique property could potentially lead to new innovations in attacking cancers that plague the majority of the human population.