The oral microbiota and its role in carcinogenesis

Semin Cancer Biol. 2022 Nov;86(Pt 3):633-642. doi: 10.1016/j.semcancer.2021.11.002. Epub 2021 Nov 4.


Despite decades of research, cancer continues to be a major global health concern. In recent years, the role played by microorganisms in the development and progression of cancer has come under increased scrutiny. The aim of the present review is to highlight the main associations between members of the human oral microbiota and various cancers. The PubMed database was searched for available literature to outline the current state of understanding regarding the role of the oral microbiota and a variety of human cancers. Oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) is associated with carriage of a number of oral bacteria (e.g., Porphyromonas gingivalis, Fusobacterium nucleatum, Streptococcus sp.), certain viruses (e.g., human papilloma virus, human herpes virus 8, herpes simplex virus 1 and Epstein-Barr virus) and yeast (Candida albicans). Moreover, members of the oral microbiota are associated with cancers of the esophagus, stomach, pancreas, colon/rectum and lung. Furthermore, the present review outlines a number of the carcinogenic mechanisms underlying the presented microbial associations with cancer. Such information may one day help clinicians to diagnose neoplastic diseases at earlier stages and prescribe treatments that take into account the possible microbial nature of carcinogenesis.

Keywords: Carcinogenic mechanisms; Oncogenic bacteria; Oncogenic viruses; Oral cancer; Oral microbiota.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinogenesis
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell* / pathology
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms*
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human
  • Humans
  • Microbiota*
  • Mouth Neoplasms* / etiology
  • Mouth Neoplasms* / pathology