Virus and Other Infection-associated Cancers

Program Overview

When most people think of infections, they visualize dangerous viruses and bacteria that rapidly cause illnesses such as pneumonia, influenza and polio. Surprisingly, viruses and bacteria are also responsible for 18% of human cancer deaths worldwide. New associations of bacterial toxins, abnormal bacterial colonization (dysbiotic microbiome), and bacterial-driven inflammation with cancer have added to the more established knowledge that viruses cause cancer. There are likely additional undiscovered viruses and bacteria that contribute to various human cancers. Furthermore, because infection with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) suppresses the immune system, HIV infection and AIDS are associated with development of cancer.

Teams of researchers within Yale Cancer Center’s Virus and Other Infection-associated Cancers (VOIC) program know that there is great opportunity to prevent and treat cancers associated with infections. In fact, virally induced tumors, such as the 19,000 cancer diagnoses caused by Human Papillomaviruses (HPV) in men and women every year in the United States—and the hundreds of thousands of such tumors worldwide—can be prevented with vaccines already in use. Development of preventative vaccines targeting other viruses (including HIV) or bacteria/bacterial proteins has promise to prevent many cancers. Treatments to improve dysbiotic microbiome or to specifically eliminate bacteria that make cancer-causing toxins are also areas ripe for cancer prevention. Discovery of novel treatment and prevention approaches based on understanding of the interaction of bacterial or viral proteins or genomes, as well as, the patient’s response to infection are major efforts in the Virus and Other Infection-associated Cancers program. In addition, members of the Virus and Other Infection-associated Cancers program within Yale Cancer Center are exploring the tantalizing potential of delivering altered viruses to kill tumors. Yale’s researchers and clinicians are proud to be at the forefront of innovation as they create new approaches to prevent and treat tumors.

Victories in this arena are already at hand with approved vaccines against HPV that prevent infection; however, Yale researchers are working to increase adoption of this vaccine to assure that all young men and women are protected. These reductions should lead to fewer diagnoses of cervical cancer in women, oropharyngeal (throat) cancer in all populations, and a decrease of many other cancers.