The role of viral and bacterial pathogens in gastrointestinal cancer

J Cell Physiol. 2008 Aug;216(2):378-88. doi: 10.1002/jcp.21427.


The association of Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) with gastric cancer is thus far the best understood model to comprehend the causal relationship between a microbial pathogen and cancer in the human gastrointestinal tract. Besides H. pylori, a variety of other pathogens are now being recognized as potential carcinogens in different settings of human cancer. In this context, viral causes of human cancers are central to the issue since these account for 10-20% of cancers worldwide. In the case of H. pylori and gastric cancer, as well as the human papillomavirus and anal cancer, the causal relationship between the infectious agent and the related cancer in the gastrointestinal tract has been clearly confirmed by epidemiological and experimental studies. Similarly, Epstein-Barr virus and the oncogenic JC virus are being suggested as possible causative agents for cancers in the upper and lower gastrointestinal tract. This review discusses various viral and microbial pathogens and their oncogenic properties in the evolution of gastrointestinal carcinogenesis and summarizes the available experimental data make a convincing agreement favoring the associations between infectious agents and specific human cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections* / complications
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms* / etiology
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms* / microbiology
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms* / virology
  • Helicobacter Infections* / complications
  • Helicobacter pylori / pathogenicity*
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / pathogenicity*
  • Humans
  • JC Virus / pathogenicity
  • Papillomaviridae / pathogenicity
  • Papillomavirus Infections / complications
  • Polyomavirus Infections / complications
  • Tumor Virus Infections / complications