The search for infectious causes of human cancers

Infectious causes of human cancers Slightly more than 20% of the global cancer burden can presently be linked to infectious agents, including viruses, bacteria and parasites. This manuscript analyzes reasons for their relatively late discovery and highlights epidemiological observations that may point to an involvement of additional infectious agents in specific human cancers. A number of infectious agents have been identified which either cause or contribute to specific human cancers. They include two members of the herpes virus family, Epstein–Barr virus and human herpesvirus type 8, high risk and low risk human papillomaviruses (HPV), Hepatitis B and C viruses, a recently identified human polyomavirus, Merkel cell polyomavirus, the human T-lymphotropic retrovirus type 1 (HTLV-1), and human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV) types 1 and 2. In addition, human endogenous retroviruses have been suspected to play a role in human cancers. Besides viruses, other pathogens have also been identified. They include the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, a major contributor to gastric cancer, and parasitic infections, here in particular Schistosoma hematobium, a major cause of bladder cancer in Egypt, and liver flukes.

Although we know that presently slightly more than 20% of the global cancer incidence is linked to infectious events, some epidemiological observations suggest that this percentage will increase in the future. The recognition that no cancer linked to infections develops without additional modifications within the host cell genome permits the speculation that even cancers with well established chromosomal modifications deserve a careful analysis for an additional involvement of infectious agents. Prime malignancies suggested here as candidates for potential links with infections are hematopoietic malignancies, particularly childhood lymphoblastic leukemias, Epstein–Barr virus-negative Hodgkin’s lymphomas, basal cell carcinomas of the skin, and breast, colorectal and a subgroup of lung cancers. Although still hypothetical, this proposal is accessible to experimental verification. Even if only one of these speculations turns out to be correct, this would have profound implications for the prevention, diagnosis and hopefully also for therapy of the respective malignancy.

The search for infectious causes of human cancers: where and why. 2009 Virology 392(1): 1-10


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7 Responses to The search for infectious causes of human cancers

  1. coldtoes says:

    Not sure why my comment and questions on this post have not appeared but my comment on eBugs post has.

  2. coldtoes says:

    third attempt! V frustrating as I am brainfogged this morning (intelligent but ill!)

    In summary: love your blog as a help to those of us nonscientists
    Pleased to see your opinion on cancer and infectious causes – I posted on this subject on my blog last month from patient’s perspective
    V exciting times in microbiological develop,ment
    But ‘normal’ people (incl doctors) look blank when I talk of interactions between microbes and cells, and poss of undiagnosed long term conditions having infectious cause.
    How are we going to bridge the gap from your specialism in to the mainstream of society? Virtually everyone is ignorant and only know the basics of Ecoli and hospital MRSA. But this stuff is essential for all of our wellbeing, and desperately needs to be understood by the new gen of medics now being trained

  3. coldtoes says:

    I would really appreciate a response of any sort to my question on spreading knowledge between specialisms and among society generally. I note that this site is paid for by a grant aimed at increasing public awareness of microbiology. I am also among the few people who have recently offered comments.
    Thank you! Have a good day :-)

  4. AJ Cann says:

    This site is all about bridging the gap – providing information from the specialist literature to the thousands of people who read this site daily. Did you have something else in mind?

  5. coldtoes says:

    As I said above, I think this site is excellent. Yes, you are doing a fantastic job of breaking down the technicalities and allowing non-scientists to peer in to the microbiological world. I find your summaries of research extremely helpful.
    I am also trying on my modest and new blog to present a small number of these complex discoveries in an easily digestible form for people who are interested in health subjects.It is essential for increased understanding among health professionals and the general public.
    I am willing to continue a conversation on these matters and how we take this forward, if you are. For example, how much interest in microbiology from physicians do you currently detect from your perspective?

  6. AJ Cann says:

    Unfortunately my other commitments don’t allow me to spend much more time than I already do maintaining this site.

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