The bifacial role of helminths in cancer: involvement of immune and non-immune mechanisms

Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 2014 Jun;51(3):138-48. doi: 10.3109/10408363.2014.886180. Epub 2014 Mar 4.


Infectious agents have been associated with cancer due to activation of pro-carcinogenic inflammatory processes within their host. Several reports, however, indicate that specific pathogens may be able to elicit anti-tumor immune responses that can lead to protection from tumorigenesis or cancer regression. Amongst these "beneficial" pathogens are some helminthic parasites that have already been connected with prevention of autoimmune diseases and allergies, immune conditions increasingly associated with cancer. Even though helminths have co-existed with humans and their ancestors for millions of years, investigations of their impact on human (patho)physiology are relatively new and the functions of components that can explain the helminth bi-directional influence on carcinogenesis are not well understood. This review aims to discuss evidence for the helminth-induced immune, genetic, epigenetic, proteomic, hormonal and metabolic changes that may ultimately mediate the potential pro- or anti-carcinogenic role of helminths. This overview may serve future investigations in clarifying the tumorigenic role of the most common helminthic parasites. It may also inspire the development of anti-cancer regimens and vaccines, in parallel to ongoing efforts of using helminth-based components for the prevention and/or treatment of autoimmune diseases and allergies.

Keywords: Cancer; helminths; immunity; infection; inflammation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogenesis / pathology*
  • Helminthiasis / pathology*
  • Helminths / isolation & purification*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / parasitology
  • Neoplasms / parasitology*