Prof. Dr. Harald zur Hausen, Heidelberg

Harald zur Hausen
Harald zur Hausen (Image: FAU)

Program change: Please note that, due to illness, Prof. Dr. Harald zur Hausen will not be able to give his keynote speech.


January 19, 9.15: Keynote


Primary Cancer Prevention: An Orphan in Cancer Medicine

Avoidance of environmental carcinogenic risk factors (e.g. tobacco smoking, alcohol abuse, obesity, extensive sunlight exposure, occupational exposures and others) are widely recognized as important, but – with the exception of smoking cessation – have on the global scale relatively little impact on cancer incidence and mortality. Cervical cancer screening methods (“Pap-smear”) and colonoscopy, wherever they are broadly applied, resulted as secondary prevention in significant reduction of cervical and colon cancer incidence. Yet, the recognition of precursor lesions commonly requires surgical interventions.

The increasing percentage of cancers linked to persistent viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections paves the way for primary prevention by vaccination or, by eliminating the persisting agent by chemotherapy or antibiotic treatment, for a new approach to eliminate persisting cancer risk factors, which we label as “tertiary prevention”.

Primary cancer prevention by vaccination is presently available for two common human cancers: liver cancer linked to hepatitis B virus infection and cervical cancer linked to infections with specific types of human papillomaviruses. The acceptance rate for both vaccines is very low for large parts of the world, including Germany. At present, even globally very few studies appear to be ongoing elucidating the potential role of infectious agents in other very common human cancers (e.g. breast, colon, and lung cancer), despite mounting epidemiological data pointing into this direction. Available percentages of health budgets for prevention rarely exceed 3%. In most countries the percentage is still substantially lower. Almost everywhere an annual increase in cancer incidence is noted. At the same time cancer mortality deceases slowly, apparently due to improved therapeutic interferences-

If we really wish to reduce the cancer incidence and the suffering of patients due to aggressive treatment protocols, research and application of primary prevention must find strong priority. Although the benefit will be less visible for present adults, this will prevent inexpressible harm and suffering for future generations.

About Harald zur Hausen, Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology 2008

Prof. Dr. Harald zur Hausen was awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the human papillomavirus which can cause cervical cancer. He worked on the important basis for this discovery during his time at FAU, when he was head of the Institute of Clinical Virology from 1972 to 1977. Prof. zur Hausen maintained close ties with FAU after his departure and was a member of the University Council from 1998 to 2002. He became an honourary senator of FAU in 2002 and received an honourary doctorate from the Faculty of Medicine in 2005. From 1983 until 2003, Prof. zur Hausen served as Scientific Director of the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum) in Heidelberg