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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 30 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 22
Prostate cancer may be caused by infection, researchers say
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Prostate cancer may be caused by infection, researchers say

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Researchers at the University of California say that a sexually transmitted infection may be the cause of prostate cancer.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), identifies a single-cell organism called trichomonas vaginalis as the culprit. The organism is transmitted through unprotected sex.

The UC researchers tested human prostate cells in a lab and found that the organism aided cancer growth.

Trichomoniasis infection is believed to infect some 275 million people worldwide and is the most common non-viral sexually transmitted infection. The American Social Health Association estimates that there are 7.4 million new trichomoniasis infections in the United States every year, making the disease one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases.

Scientists say that infected individuals may be entirely asymptomatic and may never be aware that they are infected. Common symptoms include genital irritation and possibly discharge in both men and women.

Trichomoniasis is also associated with increased risk of HIV infection and cervical cancer in women. The best preventative measure is regular condom use.

Lead researcher Professor Patricia Johnson said her team found that trichomonas vaginalis secretes a protein that causes inflammation and increased growth and invasion of benign prostate cells by cancerous ones.

More studies should now follow to further explore this finding, the research team says. A previous 2009 study showed that a quarter of men with prostate cancer also showed signs of trichomoniasis, and those patients were more likely to have advanced tumors.

British scientists expressed some reservations about the new study, however.

'This study suggests a possible way the parasite trichomonas vaginalis could encourage prostate cancer cells to grow and develop more quickly,' Nicola Smith, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, told BBC News.

'But the research was only done in the lab, and previous evidence in patients failed to show a clear link between prostate cancer and this common sexually transmitted infection.

'There's been a lot of research into prostate cancer risk and we're working hard to piece together the puzzle.

'But there are still no known lifestyle factors that seem to affect the risk of developing the disease - and no convincing evidence for a link with infection.

'The risk of prostate cancer is known to increase with age.'

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