Carcinogenic bacteria

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Reported human cancers by oncogenic bacteria[1]

Cancer bacteria are bacteria infectious organisms that are known or suspected to cause cancer.[2] While cancer-associated bacteria have long been considered to be opportunistic (i.e., infecting healthy tissues after cancer has already established itself), there is some evidence that bacteria may be directly carcinogenic. The strongest evidence to date involves the bacterium H. pylori and its role in gastric cancer.[2]

Oncoviruses are viral agents that are similarly suspected of causing cancer.

Bacteria that cause cancer

Helicobacter pylori colonizes the human stomach and duodenum. In some cases it can cause stomach cancer[3][4] and MALT lymphoma.[5] Animal models have demonstrated Koch's third and fourth postulates for the role of Helicobacter pylori in the causation of stomach cancer.[6] The mechanism by which H. pylori causes cancer may involve chronic inflammation, or the direct action of some of its virulence factors, for example, CagA has been implicated in carcinogenesis.[7]

Speculative links to cancer

A number of bacteria have associations with cancer, although their possible role in carcinogenesis is unclear.

Bacteria Suggested link
Salmonella Typhi, Paratiphi A, Typhimurium is associated with gallbladder cancer.[8][9]
Streptococcus bovis is associated with colorectal cancer.[10][11]
Chlamydia pneumoniae is associated with lung cancer.[10][12]
Mycoplasma may also have a role in the formation of different types of cancer.[13][14]
Helicobacter pylori has been linked with certainty to stomach cancer [15] and may be related to MALT lymphoma, but may also protect certain individuals from esophageal cancer.[10]

Salmonella Typhi has been linked to gallbladder cancer but may also be useful in delivering chemotherapeutic agents for the treatment of melanoma, colon and bladder cancer.[10] Bacteria found in the gut may be related to colon cancer but may be more complicated due to the role of chemoprotective probiotic cancers.[16] Microorganisms and their metabolic byproducts, or impact of chronic inflammation, may also be linked to oral cancers.[17]

The relationship between cancer and bacteria may be complicated by different individuals reacting in different ways to different cancers.[10]


Bacteria involved in causing and treating cancers

In 1890, the Scottish pathologist William Russell reported circumstantial evidence for the bacterial cause of cancer.[18] In 1926, Canadian physician Thomas Glover reported that he could consistently isolate a specific bacterium from the neoplastic tissues of animals and humans.[19] One review summarized Glover's report as follows:

The author reports the isolation of a pleomorphic organism from various types of cancer which can be grown in pure cultures in its several phases. He produced a serum from it which has given remarkable results in a series of 50 reported cases. This is very important, if true. We suppose the Cancer Society will give an opinion later on the reliability of the findings."[20]

Glover was asked to continue his work at the Public Health Service (later incorporated into the National Institutes of Health) completing his studies in 1929 and publishing his findings in 1930.[21] He asserted that a vaccine or anti-serum manufactured from his bacterium could be used to treat cancer patients with varying degrees of success.[21] According to historical accounts, scientists from the Public Health Service challenged Glover's claims and asked him to repeat his research to better establish quality control.[22] Glover refused and opted to continue his research independently; not seeking consensus, Glover's claims and results led to controversy and are today not given serious merit.[23]

In 1950, a Newark-based physician named Virginia Livingston published a paper claiming that a specific Mycobacterium was associated with neoplasia.[24] Livingston continued to research the alleged bacterium throughout the 1950s and eventually proposed the name Progenitor cryptocides as well as developed a treatment protocol.[25] Ultimately, her claim of a universal cancer bacterium was not supported in follow up studies. In 1990 the National Cancer Institute published a review of Livingston's theories, concluding that her methods of classifying the cancer bacterium contained "remarkable errors" and it was actually a case of misclassification - the bacterium was actually Staphylococcus epidermidis.[23]

Other researchers and clinicians who worked with the theory that bacteria could cause cancer, especially from the 1930s to the 1960s, included Eleanor Alexander-Jackson, William Coley, William Crofton, Gunther Enderlein, Franz Gerlach, Josef Issels, Elise L'Esperance, Milbank Johnson, Arthur Kendall, Royal Rife, Florence Seibert, Wilhelm von Brehmer, and Ernest Villequez.[26] Alexander-Jackson and Seibert worked with Virginia Livingston. Some of the researchers published reports that also claimed to have found bacteria associated with different types of cancers.[27][28][29][30][31][32]

See also



  1. Elagan, Sayed K.; Almalki, Saad J.; Alharthi, M. R.; Mohamed, Mohamed S.; EL-Badawy, Mohamed F. (1 June 2021). "Role of Bacteria in the Incidence of Common GIT Cancers: The Dialectical Role of Integrated Bacterial DNA in Human Carcinogenesis". Infection and Drug Resistance. 14: 2003–2014. doi:10.2147/IDR.S309051.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Alfarouk KO, Bashir AH, Aljarbou AN, Ramadan AM, Muddathir AK, AlHoufie ST, et al. (22 February 2019). "The Possible Role of Helicobacter pylori in Gastric Cancer and Its Management". Frontiers in Oncology. 9: 75. doi:10.3389/fonc.2019.00075. PMC 6395443. PMID 30854333.
  3. Egi Y, Ito M, Tanaka S, Imagawa S, Takata S, Yoshihara M, et al. (May 2007). "Role of Helicobacter pylori infection and chronic inflammation in gastric cancer in the cardia". Japanese Journal of Clinical Oncology. 37 (5): 365–369. doi:10.1093/jjco/hym029. PMID 17578895.
  4. Peter S, Beglinger C (2007). "Helicobacter pylori and gastric cancer: the causal relationship". Digestion. 75 (1): 25–35. doi:10.1159/000101564. PMID 17429205. S2CID 21288653.
  5. Morgner A, Bayerdörffer E, Neubauer A, Stolte M (March 2000). "Gastric MALT lymphoma and its relationship to Helicobacter pylori infection: management and pathogenesis of the disease". Microscopy Research and Technique. 48 (6): 349–356. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-0029(20000315)48:6<349::AID-JEMT5>3.0.CO;2-7. PMID 10738316. S2CID 9289825.
  6. Watanabe T, Tada M, Nagai H, Sasaki S, Nakao M (September 1998). "Helicobacter pylori infection induces gastric cancer in mongolian gerbils". Gastroenterology. 115 (3): 642–648. doi:10.1016/S0016-5085(98)70143-X. PMID 9721161.
  7. Hatakeyama M, Higashi H (December 2005). "Helicobacter pylori CagA: a new paradigm for bacterial carcinogenesis". Cancer Science. 96 (12): 835–843. doi:10.1111/j.1349-7006.2005.00130.x. PMID 16367902.
  8. Boccellato F, Meyer TF (June 2015). "Bacteria Moving into Focus of Human Cancer". Cell Host & Microbe. 17 (6): 728–730. doi:10.1016/j.chom.2015.05.016. PMID 26067598.
  9. Scanu T, Spaapen RM, Bakker JM, Pratap CB, Wu LE, Hofland I, et al. (June 2015). "Salmonella Manipulation of Host Signaling Pathways Provokes Cellular Transformation Associated with Gallbladder Carcinoma". Cell Host & Microbe. 17 (6): 763–774. doi:10.1016/j.chom.2015.05.002. PMID 26028364.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Mager DL (March 2006). "Bacteria and cancer: cause, coincidence or cure? A review". Journal of Translational Medicine. 4 (1): 14. doi:10.1186/1479-5876-4-14. PMC 1479838. PMID 16566840.
  11. Gold JS, Bayar S, Salem RR (July 2004). "Association of Streptococcus bovis bacteremia with colonic neoplasia and extracolonic malignancy". Archives of Surgery. 139 (7): 760–765. doi:10.1001/archsurg.139.7.760. PMID 15249410.
  12. Kocazeybek B (August 2003). "Chronic Chlamydophila pneumoniae infection in lung cancer, a risk factor: a case-control study". Journal of Medical Microbiology. 52 (Pt 8): 721–726. doi:10.1099/jmm.0.04845-0. PMID 12867569.
  13. Ning JY, Shou CC (May 2004). "[Mycoplasma infection and cancer]". AI Zheng = Aizheng = Chinese Journal of Cancer. 23 (5): 602–604. PMID 15142464.
  14. Namiki K, Goodison S, Porvasnik S, Allan RW, Iczkowski KA, Urbanek C, et al. (September 2009). Bruggemann H (ed.). "Persistent exposure to Mycoplasma induces malignant transformation of human prostate cells". PLOS ONE. 4 (9): e6872. Bibcode:2009PLoSO...4.6872N. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006872. PMC 2730529. PMID 19721714.
  15. Traulsen J, Zagami C, Daddi AA, Boccellato F (2021-03-01). "Molecular modelling of the gastric barrier response, from infection to carcinogenesis". Best Practice & Research. Clinical Gastroenterology. 50–51: 101737. doi:10.1016/j.bpg.2021.101737. PMID 33975688. S2CID 233900318. Archived from the original on 2024-03-23. Retrieved 2023-12-11.
  16. McGarr SE, Ridlon JM, Hylemon PB (February 2005). "Diet, anaerobic bacterial metabolism, and colon cancer: a review of the literature". Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. 39 (2): 98–109. PMID 15681903.
  17. Hooper SJ, Wilson MJ, Crean SJ (September 2009). Myers JN (ed.). "Exploring the link between microorganisms and oral cancer: a systematic review of the literature". Head & Neck. 31 (9): 1228–1239. doi:10.1002/hed.21140. PMID 19475550. S2CID 27269158.
  18. Russell W (December 1890). "An Address on a Characteristic Organism of Cancer". British Medical Journal. 2 (1563): 1356–1360. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.1563.1356. PMC 2208600. PMID 20753194.
  19. Glover TJ (1926). "Progress in Cancer Research". Canada Lancet and Practitioner. 67: 5.
  20. Patterson RS (1926). "A selected public health bibliography with annotations". American Journal of Public Health. 16 (12): 1242–1244. doi:10.2105/AJPH.16.12.1242. PMC 1581099.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Glover TJ (1930). "The bacteriology of cancer". Canada Lancet and Practitioner. 74: 92–111.
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  23. 23.0 23.1 "Livingston-Wheeler therapy". CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 40 (2): 103–108. 1990. doi:10.3322/canjclin.40.2.103. PMID 2106368.
  24. Wuerthele-Caspe V, Alexander-Jackson E, Anderson JA, Hillier J, Allen RM, Smith LW (December 1950). "Cultural properties and pathogenicity of certain microorganisms obtained from various proliferative and neoplastic diseases". The American Journal of the Medical Sciences. 220 (6): 638–646. doi:10.1097/00000441-195022060-00006. PMID 14789767. S2CID 39359507.
  25. Livingston VW, Alexander-Jackson E (September 1965). "An experimental biologic approach to the treatment of neoplastic disease; determination of actinomycin in urine and cultures as an aid to diagnosis and prognosis". Journal of the American Medical Women's Association. 20 (9): 858–866. PMID 4220493.
  26. Hess DJ (1997). Can Bacteria Cause Cancer?. New York: NYU Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-3562-6.
  27. L'esperance ES (January 1931). "Studies in Hodgkin's Disease". Annals of Surgery. 93 (1): 162–168. doi:10.1097/00000658-193101000-00023. PMC 1398784. PMID 17866459.
  28. Mazet, G. (June/August 1941) "Etude bacteriolgigue sur la maladie d'Hodgkin". Montpellier Medicine.
  29. Von Brehmer W. "Siphonosopra polymorpha n. sp.: ein neuer microorganismus des blutes, seine beziehung zur tumorgenese". Med Welt. 8: 1178–1185.
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  31. Villesquez EJ (1955). Le Parasitisme Latent des Cellules du Sang chez l' Homme, en Particulier dans le Sang des Cancreeux. Paris, France: Librarie Maloine.
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