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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Role of infectious agents in the carcinogenesis of brain and head and neck cancers

Kenneth Alibek12, Ainur Kakpenova1* and Yeldar Baiken1

Author Affiliations

1 Nazarbayev University, 53 Kabanbay Batyr Avenue, Astana, 010000, Kazakhstan

2 Republican Scientific Center for Emergency Care, 3 Kerey and Zhanibek Khan Street, Astana, 010000, Kazakhstan

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Infectious Agents and Cancer 2013, 8:7  doi:10.1186/1750-9378-8-7

Published: 2 February 2013

Abstract

This review concentrates on tumours that are anatomically localised in head and neck regions. Brain cancers and head and neck cancers together account for more than 873,000 cases annually worldwide, with an increasing incidence each year. With poor survival rates at late stages, brain and head and neck cancers represent serious conditions. Carcinogenesis is a multi-step process and the role of infectious agents in this progression has not been fully identified. A major problem with such research is that the role of many infectious agents may be underestimated due to the lack of or inconsistency in experimental data obtained globally. In the case of brain cancer, no infection has been accepted as directly oncogenic, although a number of viruses and parasites are associated with the malignancy. Our analysis of the literature showed the presence of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) in distinct types of brain tumour, namely glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) and medulloblastoma. In particular, there are reports of viral protein in up to 100% of GBM specimens. Several epidemiological studies reported associations of brain cancer and toxoplasmosis seropositivity. In head and neck cancers, there is a distinct correlation between Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC). Considering that almost every undifferentiated NPC is EBV-positive, virus titer levels can be measured to screen high-risk populations. In addition there is an apparent association between human papilloma virus (HPV) and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC); specifically, 26% of HNSCCs are positive for HPV. HPV type 16 was the most common type detected in HNSCCs (90%) and its dominance is even greater than that reported in cervical carcinoma. Although there are many studies showing an association of infectious agents with cancer, with various levels of involvement and either a direct or indirect causative effect, there is a scarcity of articles covering the role of infection in carcinogenesis of brain and head and neck cancers. We review recent studies on the infectious origin of these cancers and present our current understanding of carcinogenic mechanisms, thereby providing possible novel approaches to cancer treatment.

Keywords:
Carcinogenesis; Brain cancer; Head and neck cancer; Cytomegalovirus; Polyomavirus; Toxoplasma; Epstein-Barr virus; Human papilloma virus; HIV; Streptococcus anginosus