Can Microbes Cause Cancer? The Infectious Trigger
So what is it exactly that causes cancer? We hear lots of stories on the news and in print media stating that various things we do to our body could be responsible for cancer, such as smoking, eating bad food, not getting enough vitamins or exercise, etc. But in actuality, none of these things directly cause cancer; they simply put our bodies at a greater risk of developing cancer. Microbes are one of the main leading causes of cancer, and scientists and researchers are leading efforts to better understand how microbes can be controlled and used to develop better methods of therapy and possibly even prevent cancer from developing in the first place.
Classifying Cancer-Causing Microbes
While it is now known that microbes cause cancer, the science of this causality is tricky, but there is no denying its tremendous significance. Current scientific research proposes that microbes are directly responsible for approximately 20% of cancers that result in fatality. This is in stark contrast to what was believed about 30 years ago, when the impact of the bacterium H. pylori was being explored against ulcers, and a correlation was being discovered between H. pylori induced ulcers and stomach cancers.
The microbes that cause cancer are classified into three groups:
Class A Microbes—these microbes target the cells that enable your immune system to function effectively, leading to immunosuppression and lymphoma cancers. The immunosuppression also serves to promote additional infections and can assist class B microbes in their induction of cancer.
Common class A microbes include:
Human papilloma viruses (HPV)
- Hepatitis B and C viruses
- Helicobacter pylori
Vaccinations for the HPV and Hepatitis B and C viruses have shown proven success in lowering the risk or preventing certain types of cancer. However, cancers caused by H. pylori have proven more difficult to prevent due to the complex nature of the microbes involved.
Class B microbes—more prevalent than class A and class C microbes, these microbes form interactions with the parenchyma that can cause malignancies to develop. The metaplasia and dysplasia relationships (referring to replacement of normal cells with abnormally differentiated cells, or developments on abnormalities) can be in different types of cells: endothelial, epithelial, or mesenchymal.
Class C microbes—these microbes tend to cause epithelial tissues to react in a certain way that can lead to the development of cancer in another area of the body. These microbes can also cause tissues to degenerate.
Why do some people who smoke for only a few years develop lung cancer while others who smoke their whole lives never get cancer? The answer lies in the microbes within our bodies and an individual’s genetic makeup.
Some scientists believe that it is the differences of the microbes in different individuals that put one person at a higher risk for cancer than another, despite other factors such as smoking or eating too much red meat.
As research studies continue, investigators discover more links between particular microbe cells and their links with different types of cancer. Understanding the subtle distinctions between various microbes will enable researchers to better develop treatments for specific cancers, with the ultimate goal of preventing cancer altogether.
Using Microbes to Treat, and Prevent Cancer
Oncogenic microbes can reside within and infect their host for several years, although they more commonly attack cells and tissues on an ongoing basis. While vaccinations can have some positive effect against specific types of microbes, such as viruses, those microbes that are more complex and intertwined with human physiology are harder to treat or eradicate.
Additionally, sometimes eradication of a particular microbe, such as H. pylori, can result in other consequences that can prove harmful to human health. As studies continue, new strategies for intervention are being developed. Unfortunately, it seems there is still a long way to go in understanding the many complexities and variations of microbes and their relationships with the body and links to certain types of cancer.
What is also a very large gray area is the actual mechanism by which a microbe, that is normally a harmless resident of the human biological environment, suddenly turns around and becomes a cause of cancer.
“This article reflects the opinions of the author and those of any of the source articles and should not be misconstrued as medical advice. None of this information is evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, and is not meant to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease.”