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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Bacteria and tumours: causative agents or opportunistic inhabitants?

Joanne Cummins and Mark Tangney*

Author Affiliations

Cork Cancer Research Centre, BioSciences Institute, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland

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Infectious Agents and Cancer 2013, 8:11  doi:10.1186/1750-9378-8-11

Published: 28 March 2013

Abstract

Associations between different bacteria and various tumours have been reported in patients for decades. Studies involving characterisation of bacteria within tumour tissues have traditionally been in the context of tumourigenesis as a result of bacterial presence within healthy tissues, and in general, dogma holds that such bacteria are causative agents of malignancy (directly or indirectly). While evidence suggests that this may be the case for certain tumour types and bacterial species, it is plausible that in many cases, clinical observations of bacteria within tumours arise from spontaneous infection of established tumours. Indeed, growth of bacteria specifically within tumours following deliberate systemic administration has been demonstrated for numerous bacterial species at preclinical and clinical levels. We present the available data on links between bacteria and tumours, and propose that besides the few instances in which pathogens are playing a pathogenic role in cancer, in many instances, the prevalent relationship between solid tumours and bacteria is opportunistic rather than causative, and discuss opportunities for exploiting tumour-specific bacterial growth for cancer treatment.