Effects of infections on the pathogenesis of cancer

Indian J Med Res. 2021 Apr;153(4):431-445. doi: 10.4103/ijmr.IJMR_339_19.


Several studies have shown an inverse relationship between acute infections and cancer development. On the other hand, there is a growing evidence that chronic infections may contribute significantly to the carcinogenesis. Factors responsible for increased susceptibility to infections may include modifications of normal defence mechanisms or impairment of host immunity due to altered immune function, genetic polymorphisms, ageing and malnourishment. Studies have demonstrated that children exposed to febrile infectious diseases show a subsequent reduced risk for ovarian cancer, melanoma and many other cancers, while common acute infections in adults are associated with reduced risks for melanoma, glioma, meningioma and multiple cancers. Chronic inflammation associated with certain infectious diseases has been suggested as a cause for the development of tumours. Mechanisms of carcinogenesis due to infections include cell proliferation and DNA replication by mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway, production of toxins that affect the cell cycle and lead to abnormal cell growth and inhibition of apoptosis. This review was aimed to summarize the available evidence on acute infections as a means of cancer prevention and on the role of chronic infections in the development and progression of cancer.

Keywords: Bacterial; cancer; carcinogenesis; immune system; infections –MAPK pathway; pathogenesis; virus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Carcinogenesis*
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Humans
  • Melanoma*