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Can bacteria cause cancer?

Cancer_bacteriaIs cancer an infectious disease caused by bacteria? As a physician-dermatologist Dr Alan Cantwell has studied various aspects of the cancer microbe for over 30 years. He shares some of his observations.

In my book, The Cancer Microbe (Aries Rising Press, 1990), I recount a century of research by various scientists who have documented the reality and importance of bacteria associated with cancer.

Despite a wealth of information on the microbiology of cancer now available on the Internet, the idea that bacteria could cause cancer is considered medical heresy.

Why would medical science overlook the finding of bacteria in cancer, particularly when the treatment of cancer is often abysmal and when the cause (or causes) of many types of cancer remains  unknown?

Many physicians readily  accept  the idea of submicroscopic viruses as a cause of  some cancers, but the idea of microscopically visible bacteria as a cause is taboo.

Unfortunately, medical doctors are limited by dogma that eliminated a bacterial cause for cancer a century ago.

In the late 19th century, when the bacterial cause of many infectious diseases was discovered, it was decided that cancer did not act like an infectious or contagious disease, and therefore it was concluded that bacteria were not causative.

Although a few scientists later found highly unusual and pleomorphic bacteria, these bacteria were simply dismissed as “contaminants” – or as microbes that had “secondarily infected” cancerous growths.

Thus, decades before the rise of virology and molecular biology, and at a time when “mycoplasma” (very tiny) forms of bacteria were not known, the medical establishment concluded that bacteria were not involved as a cause of cancer in any way.

This conclusion colors medical thought about cancer to this day.

Once something becomes dogma in medical science, it is very difficult to change medical thinking. Ordinarily, infectious bacteria can be easily recognized in disease because they can be seen microscopically in tissue sections from disease states.

Sometimes careful “special staining” of tissue sections is necessary to make microbes more visible and more easily identifiable. (In cancerous tissue, the cancer microbe is most easily viewed with an “acid-fast” tissue stain, like the special stain employed to identify the mycobacteria that cause tuberculosis and leprosy).

For microphotographs of bacteria found in various forms of cancer, view my lecture entitled “The cancer microbe and the Russell body”, available on Other photos of the bacteria can also be found in my scientific papers at the Journal of Independent Medical Research website.             

One perennial complaint about the so-called cancer microbe is that is pleomorphic. For some reason, the idea that a proposed cancer germ could have more than one form is a threat to doctors and some microbiologists.

Indeed,  the cancer germ has been described as having a virus like and fungus-like, as well as mycoplasma-like phase. Such a “life cycle” is deemed nonsense and microbiologic heresy.

 The many guises of the pleomorphic cancer microbe were studied extensively in the 1960s and 70s by four remarkable women scientists: Virginia Livingston (a physician); Eleanor Alexander-Jackson (a microbiologist); Irene Diller (a cytologist); and Florence Seibert, a chemist, tuberculosis expert, and inventor of the tuberculin skin test.

Their individual and collaborative studies are essential reading to understand the proposed microbiology of cancer. I recently wrote about these cancer researchers in my book, Four Women Against Cancer: Bacteria, Cancer and the Origin of Life (Aries Rising Press, 2005)

This research clearly indicated that cancer microbes are best detected by special tissue staining methods (similar to those used in tuberculosis and leprosy research). The cancer germ has some similarity to pleomorphic tuberculosis germs.

In all its many forms the tuberculosis microbe is pleomorphic. (See the work of mycoplasma expert Lida H. Mattman.) The bacteria that cause TB are known as “mycobacteria”.

Some forms of the bacillus are round “coccoid” forms; other forms are more typically “acid-fast” and “rod” forms. All mycobacteria form a phylogenetic link or bridge between the bacteria and the “higher” fungi.  

There are microscopic similarities between the TB germ and the cancer microbe.     

Under appropriate conditions, bacteria can lose their cell wall and become amorphous, smaller, highly pleomorphic “cell-wall deficient forms.” Under suitable conditions, mycoplasma can enlarge to giant-sized forms (“Large bodies”) resembling fungal and spore-like forms.

It is vital to be aware of and to recognise such unusual and hard-to-detect forms in tissue microscopic sections because, in my experience, this mycoplasmal form is the form the cancer microbe takes inside the body in human disease.

Due to their small size, mycobacteria form a bridge between (larger) bacteria and smaller) viruses. Microbiologists separate (and classify) viruses, bacteria, mycoplasma, and fungi, as distinct entities. In fact, there is interplay between all of them.

It is well-known that bacteria can be infected with viruses. Nevertheless, scientists cannot seem to understand how microbes can change into virus-like, mycoplasma-like and fungus-like infectious agents.

For more details on the amazing pleomorphism of cancer bacteria, consult my Internet paper entitled “The Russell Body: The forgotten clue to the bacterial cause of cancer.

For many years I identified cancer microbes in a variety of disease states. In The Cancer Microbe, I show photomicrographs of cancer microbes in “autoimmune” diseases such as scleroderma, in AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma, in enlarged lymph nodes in AIDS, in breast cancer, in lymphoma and Hodgkin’s disease, in a lung disease called interstitial pneumonitis, in sarcoidosis, in an immunoblastic sarcoma and even in a skin cancer.

Not everyone who becomes infected with TB germs develops clinical tuberculosis. People can harbor the TB germ without ever becoming ill. The same is true for cancer microbes. Not everyone who carries them develops cancer.

According to Virginia Livingston, the microbe is “ubliquitous.” It is found in various disease states and also can be found normally. This is a difficult for some medical doctors to believe because of the idea that an infectious agent must always infect.

Livingston infuriated the scientific establishment by naming the cancer microbe “Progenitor cryptocides” – meaning “hidden killer”. She claimed the microbe was present in every cell.

Due to its biochemical peculiarities, the organism was responsible for initiating life and for healing of tissue; and was the microbe ultimately responsible for eventual degeneration and death of all life.

Such ideas, of course, are at odds with medical thought. However, my own studies have suggested that the cancer microbe is indeed ubiquitous and indestructible, which is further reason why it should be taken seriously, particularly in diseases that are poorly understood, like cancer and “diseases of unknown etiology.”

Most importantly, cancer microbes are significant because they can be identified in the cancerous tissue in various forms of cancer. A few of these microbes can be seen in “normal” tissue, but strikingly larger numbers can be seen in the areas of the tumor.

These microbes can be identified in “pre-cancerous” conditions, suggesting that these germs are present before the actual induction of the cancer. Furthermore, when cancer is “cured” by radiation and chemotherapy, the microbe can still be found in the damaged, previously cancerous areas.

The reason we cannot “cure” cancer is that we cannot stop the destruction caused by these “hidden” and “unrecognized” bacterial elements. The reason antibiotics do not work well in cancer is because the microbes (in the mycoplasmal phase inside the body) are not generally susceptible to antibiotics.

In cancer research, there is controversy as to whether cancer is one disease or many. For instance, could breast cancer and lung cancer and prostate cancer all be caused by the same agent.

This would be deemed highly improbable, but if cancer microbes were shown to be associated with all three forms of cancer, the possibility that all three kinds of cancer might be related becomes more possible.

Is cancer contagious? For a century physicians have said “no.” But now we know that certain viruses like HIV can lead to cancer. Certain wart “papilloma” viruses can be spread sexually and result in cervical cancer. If further infectious agents, like cancer microbes, are found in cancerous diseases, we may have to reevaluate the contagiosity of cancer.

Obviously in this short article, few people will be convinced that bacteria cause cancer. For me, it took many years of study, microscopic observation, and communication with microbiologists, pathologists, and colleagues, to become convinced that Livingston and her associates were correct in their claims of a cancer microbe.

A wealth of knowledge pertaining to the cancer microbe (both pro and con) can be found by Googling “cancer microbe”, “Alan Cantwell”, “Virginia livingston”, “Eleanor Alexander-Jackson” and other names mentioned in this article.

For a list of scientific publications in medical journals pertaining to the microbiology of cancer, go to the Pubmed website and type in “Cantwell AR”, “Livingston VW”, “Alexander-Jackson E”, “Diller IC”, “Seibert FB.”     

© 2010 by Alan Cantwell. Dr Cantwell  is the author of The Cancer Microbe, and Four Women Against Cancer, available on or Book Clearing House or via 1-800-431-1579. His website is Aries Rising Press and you can email him at alancantwell [at] sbcglobal [dotnet].


0 #2 lele 2010-10-13 16:58
i love this article i need it for a project thx alot
0 #1 Sarah Fordham 2010-02-21 05:33
This is an interesting article. What does the microbe theory mean in terms of prevention and cure of cancer?

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