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Environ Health Perspect. 1995 Nov;103 Suppl 8:263-8.

Bacterial infection as a cause of cancer.

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Department of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, California, USA.

Erratum in

  • Environ Health Perspect 1996 May;104 Suppl 3:followi.


Bacterial infections traditionally have not been considered major causes of cancer. Recently, however, bacteria have been linked to cancer by two mechanisms: induction of chronic inflammation and production of carcinogenic bacterial metabolites. The most specific example of the inflammatory mechanism of carcinogenesis is Helicobacter pylori infection. H. pylori has been epidemiologically linked to adenocarcinoma of the distal stomach by its propensity to cause lifelong inflammation. This inflammation is in turn thought to cause cancer by inducing cell proliferation and production of mutagenic free radicals and N-nitroso compounds. H. pylori is the first bacterium to be termed a definite cause of cancer in humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Mutagenic bacterial metabolites are also suspected to increase risk for cancer. This model is best exemplified in colon cancer. Bile salt metabolites increase colonic cell proliferation. Exogenous compounds such as rutin may be metabolized into mutagens by resident colonic flora. Moreover, Bacteroides species can produce fecapentaenes, potent in vitro mutagens, in relatively high concentrations. In vivo data on human carcinogenesis by bacterial metabolites, however, are inconsistent. Local bacterial infections may also predispose to nonnodal lymphomas, although the mechanisms for this are unknown. Gastric lymphomas and immunoproliferative small intestinal disease have been most strongly linked to underlying bacterial infection. Because bacterial infections can be cured with antibiotics, identification of bacterial causes of malignancy could have important implications for cancer prevention.

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