Bacteria: The Ultimate Cause of Cancer?

by Alan Cantwell

New Dawn No. 76 (January-February 2003)

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.             

      Yet another modern example of dogma-defying research is provided by recent studies proving that bacteria (Helicobacter pylori) are a common cause of stomach ulcers, which can eventually lead to stomach cancer and lymphoma. When I went to medical school, stomach ulcers were thought to be due to stress, lifestyle, or improper diet, and it was not uncommon to send ulcer patients to psychiatrists for analysis.

      For a century, physicians refused to believe that bacteria could cause ulcers because they thought bacteria could not live in the acid environment of the stomach. In 1982 a researcher, who was unable to convince his colleagues that bacteria could cause ulcers and gastritis, actually proved his case by drinking a culture of H. pylori. When he rapidly became ill with stomach symptoms, he admitted himself to the hospital where these bacteria were found to be associated with his gastric disease. It also turned out that these bacteria could indeed be detected in the stomach lining of stomach ulcers, but only when the tissue was stained in a special way to detect the bacteria. The CDC now claims that H. pylori causes more than 90% of duodenal ulcers and 80% of gastric ulcers. Approximately two-thirds of the world’s population is infected with these microbes.

      The present experience with ulcer-causing microbes proves that bacteria can indeed pop up in diseases where they are least expected. Such a caveat is appropriate for doctors who think they know everything about cancer and who pooh-pooh all aspects of cancer microbe research.

      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 was 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.

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

      In all its many forms the tuberculosis microbe is certainly 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. “Myco” is Greek for fungus. Ergo, myco-bacteria.

      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 love to 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.

       Because the cancer microbe is related to the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, it is helpful to compare the microbiology of cancer with what we know about the microbiology of mycobacteria and their production of various forms of clinical TB.

       Over the past half-century we have learned that TB is not always caused by the same identical germs. TB infections of the lung may be caused by various “atypical” mycobacteria that are not identical to the common Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Also some atypical mycobacteria have been discovered in various disease states that are not considered tuberculosis. Thus, there is no reason to expect all cancer-associated bacteria to be exactly the same germ.

      Furthermore, just as everyone who harbours H. pylori does not develop stomach ulcers, we should not expect all “cancer microbes” to produce cancer. Also it is not unreasonable to consider that cancer microbes have the potential to produce disease states that are not considered 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 harbour 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 tumour. 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 “unrecognised” bacterial elements. The reason antibiotics do not work well in cancer is because the microbes (in the mycoplasmal phase inside the body) are not 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.

      When Livingston and colleagues injected cancer microbes into animals and chickens, some developed cancer, some developed degenerative and proliferative diseases, and some developed nothing of note. Apparently the individual “immunity” of the host was an important factor in terms of what response the cancer microbe would elicit.

      Tuberculosis infection can affect many parts of the body. Tuberculosis confined to the skin is very different disease when compared to TB of the lung or of the bone. Yet, all three manifestations of the disease are linked together because the TB germ can be found in all three. If cancer microbes are indeed proven as infectious agents in cancer – then various forms of cancer may indeed be manifestations of the same cancer microbe.

      There are many “factors” that determine whether a person will become infected with TB. Obviously, smoking is a big factor in lung cancer, radiation is a big factor in skin cancer and leukemia, and so on. However, in defense of the cancer microbe theory, it would be fair to suggest that anything that damages tissue would provide a soil for the possible development of cancer microbe activity in the tissue that could lead to cancer or the development of degenerative or proliferative disease.

      Finally, 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 communication, 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 on search engines such as Simply type in “cancer microbe”, “alan cantwell”, “virginia livingston”, “Eleanor Alexander-Jackson” and other names mentioned in this communication.

      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.”

      For serious students of the microbiology of cancer, I would recommend the following books:

Cantwell, Alan: The Cancer Microbe (1990), Aries Rising Press, Los Angeles

Cantwell, Alan: AIDS: The Mystery and the Solution (1986), Aries Rising Press

Livingston, Virginia: Cancer: A New Breakthrough (1972), Livingston Clinic, San Diego

Livingston, Virginia: The Microbiology of Cancer (1977), Livingston Clinic

Hess, David: Can Bacteria Cause Cancer (1997), NY University Press

Mattman, Lida: Cell Wall Deficient Forms; Stealth Pathogens (1993), CRC Press

Reich, Wilhelm: The Cancer Biopathy (1973), Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, New York

Doctor Cantwell, retired from active practice, can be contacted via email at  He is the author of The Cancer Microbe, published by Aries Rising Press, PO Box 29532, Los Angeles, CA 90029. The book may be ordered from Book Clearing House ( or via 1-800-431-1579. Dr. Cantwell’s book Queer Blood: The Secret AIDS Genocide Plot, is available from New Dawn Book Service.