Fusobacterium nucleatum and oral cancer: a critical review

BMC Cancer. 2021 Nov 13;21(1):1212. doi: 10.1186/s12885-021-08903-4.


There is a growing level of interest in the potential role inflammation has on the initiation and progression of malignancy. Notable examples include Helicobacter pylori-mediated inflammation in gastric cancer and more recently Fusobacterium nucleatum-mediated inflammation in colorectal cancer. Fusobacterium nucleatum is a Gram-negative anaerobic bacterium that was first isolated from the oral cavity and identified as a periodontal pathogen. Biofilms on oral squamous cell carcinomas are enriched with anaerobic periodontal pathogens, including F. nucleatum, which has prompted hypotheses that this bacterium could contribute to oral cancer development. Recent studies have demonstrated that F. nucleatum can promote cancer by several mechanisms; activation of cell proliferation, promotion of cellular invasion, induction of chronic inflammation and immune evasion. This review provides an update on the association between F. nucleatum and oral carcinogenesis, and provides insights into the possible mechanisms underlying it.

Keywords: Carcinogenesis; F. nucleatum; Fusobacteria; OSCC; Oral cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bacterial Adhesion
  • Biofilms
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / microbiology
  • Fusobacterium Infections / complications*
  • Fusobacterium Infections / drug therapy
  • Fusobacterium nucleatum* / immunology
  • Fusobacterium nucleatum* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Immune Evasion
  • Immunity, Cellular
  • Inflammation / microbiology
  • Metronidazole / therapeutic use
  • Mice
  • Mouth Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Mouth Neoplasms / microbiology*
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Porphyromonas gingivalis
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / drug therapy
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / microbiology*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Metronidazole