Can bacteria cause cancer? An article in Nature Reviews Microbiology describes how evidence is accumulating to suggest that bacteria that cause persistent infections can directly promote tumour formation.
Unlike viruses, which are now generally accepted to be involved in cancers such as cervical cancer, the link between bacteria and cancer has remained controversial since it was first proposed in the late nineteenth century, writes Alistair Lax. But now evidence suggests that many toxins produced by bacteria influence whether an infected cell will grow and divide, or die, and these effects can trigger the growth and spread of tumours.
The best example of this is the stomach bug Helicobacter pylori, which has been strongly linked with gastric cancer, but Lax describes how other, often common, bacteria could also cause cancer. Far from trying to cause alarm, Lax argues that this work will lead to a better understanding of carcinogenesis and ultimately stimulate efforts to create novel therapies for cancer where prevention is the goal.
Alistair J Lax (Department of Microbiology, King's College London, UK)
(C) Nature Reviews Journal press release.
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