Fungi and cancerous tumours: Scientists uncover association

Scientists have uncovered an association between tumours and fungi, which may lead to a deeper understanding towards the biology of certain cancers.

An international research initiative identified 35 types of cancer that carry traces of fungi lurking in various mutations of tumours – namely, those that originate in breasts, the colon, the pancreas and lungs.

The findings from scientists at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine derived from more than 17,000 tissue, blood and plasma samples collected by researchers from cancer patients.

Although there are no definitive conclusions that could be drawn about the role fungi plays in the development and spread of these cancers, the peer-reviewed research indicates that there are significant correlations between specific fungi and age, tumour subtypes and survival measures.

“The existence of fungi in most human cancers is both a surprise and to be expected,” Dr. Rob Knight, a professor at UC San Diego’s School of Medicine and Bioengineering and Computer Science, said in a news release.

“It is surprising because we don’t know how fungi could get into tumors throughout the body. But it is also expected because it fits the pattern of healthy microbiomes throughout the body, including the gut, mouth and skin, where bacteria and fungi interact as part of a complex community.”

One of the authors of the study, Dr. Ravid Straussman, claims that these recent findings should “drive us to better explore their potential effects and re-examine almost everything we know about cancer through a ‘microbiome lens.’”

Dr. Gregory Sepich-Poore, another author of the study, said in the news release that looking through this “microbiome lens” might be a key piece to understanding the biology of cancer.

“It may present significant translational opportunities,” he said. “Not only in cancer detection, but also in other biotech applications related to [treatments and diagnostics.”