• Question: Can viruses and bacteria ever cause cancer, other than abnormal, uncontrolled cell growth?

    Asked by issiphee1 to Gioia, Iain, Jo, Leo, Mariam on 21 Jun 2010 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Iain Moal

      Iain Moal answered on 19 Jun 2010:

      Yes, they can. In fact, one of the first theories of cancer was that it was caused by viruses, although now we realise that there are other causes of cancer. There are quite a number of viruses, called retroviruses, which work by inserting themselves into human DNA. They can disrupt the normal regulation of cells, and cause cancer. In fact, the recent ‘cervical cancer vaccine’ isn’t really a vaccine against cancer. It is a vaccine against a virus that causes cancer.

    • Photo: Mariam Orme

      Mariam Orme answered on 20 Jun 2010:

      Viruses can certainly cause cancer: for example, HPV (human papillomavirus) can cause cervical cancer (so when you get the cervical cancer jab, you’re actually being vaccinated against this virus) and hepatitis viruses can cause liver cancer. But the vast majority of viruses do not cause cancer, and as far as I know, no bacteria cause cancer.

    • Photo: Gioia Cherubini

      Gioia Cherubini answered on 21 Jun 2010:

      There are a series of viruses that are called transforming viruses, for their capacity to transform a cell into a cancer cell. This means that these viruses are able to induce in different ways those mutations that lead to the cell starting dividing indefinitely. One is the papilloma virus (HPV), whose infection greatly increases the risk of developing cervical cancer or the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) that is strongly linked to Burkitt’s Lymphoma