Background: Although ∼20% of human cancers are caused by microorganisms, only suspicion exists for a microbial cause of lung cancer. Potential infectious agents were investigated in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and non-neoplastic lung.
Methods: Seventy NSCLC tumours (33 squamous cell carcinomas, 17 adenocarcinomas, 10 adenocarcinomas with lepidic spread, and 10 oligometastases) and 10 non-neoplastic lung specimens were evaluated for molecular evidence of microorganisms. Tissues were subjected to the Lawrence Livermore Microbial Detection Array, an oncovirus panel of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and human papillomavirus (HPV) genotyping. Associations were examined between microbial prevalence, clinical characteristics, and p16 and EGFR expression.
Results: Retroviral DNA was observed in 85% squamous cell carcinomas, 47% adenocarcinomas, and 10% adenocarcinomas with lepidic spread. Human papillomavirus DNA was found in 69% of squamous cell carcinomas with 30% containing high-risk HPV types. No significant viral DNA was detected in non-neoplastic lung. Patients with tumours containing viral DNA experienced improved long-term survival compared with patients with viral DNA-negative tumours.
Conclusions: Most squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinomas contained retroviral DNA and one-third of squamous cell carcinomas contained high-risk HPV DNA. Viral DNA was absent in non-neoplastic lung. Trial results encourage further study of the viral contribution to lung carcinogenesis.