by Alan Cantwell
As a physician-dermatologist I have studied various aspects of the cancer microbe for over 30 years. 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, this body of work has been largely ignored.
Why would medical science overlook the finding of bacterial elements in cancer, particularly when the treatment of advanced cancer is often abysmal and when the cause (or causes) of many types of cancer remain unknown? If and when the bacterial cause of cancer is widely accepted, it will be left to medical historians to determine why the medical community failed to recognise cancer bacteria. At the present time, it is fair to say that most physicians are either unaware of cancer microbe research, or ignore the published findings, or are openly hostile to this research.
Unfortunately, medical doctors are limited by dogma about cancer-associated bacteria that eliminated a bacterial cause for cancer a century ago. In the late nineteenth 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. Furthermore, there was no single or consistent type of microbe found, and animals experimentally infected with cancer microbes did not give develop cancer. Thus, decades before the rise of virology and molecular biology, and at a time when “mycoplasma” 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 has coloured medical thought about cancer to this day.
Historically, it took centuries for doctors to recognise microbes as the cause of any disease. By the use of lenses, germs were discovered 200 years before physicians finally understood that microbes were capable of causing disease. For two centuries the dogma was that those exceedingly tiny “animacules” could not possibly be a threat to a grown person.
Once something becomes dogma in medical science, it is very difficult to change medical thinking. Ordinarily, infectious bacteria can be easily recognised 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).
In this so-called modern era of medical science, one would think it impossible for disease experts to overlook disease-causing bacteria. However, when a new and deadly lung disease broke out among legionnaires in Philadelphia in July 1976, two hundred twenty-two people became ill and thirty-four died. The cause of the lung disease remained a medical mystery for over five months. Bacterial infection was ruled out when all tests were reported as negative. Fortunately, one astute and careful microbiologist finally discovered bacteria. Joe McDade at the Leprosy Branch of the CDC, was able to detect “unusual bacteria” in guinea pigs experimentally infected with lung tissue from the dead legionnaires. Further modification of bacterial culture methods finally allowed the isolation of causative bacteria, now known as Legionella pneumophila.