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Puzzling and ambivalent roles of malarial infections in cancer development and progression

  • ERIC FAURE (a1)

Scientific evidence strongly suggests that parasites are directly or indirectly associated with carcinogenesis in humans. However, studies have also indicated that parasites or their products might confer resistance to tumour growth. Plasmodium protozoa, the causative agents of malaria, exemplify the ambivalent link between parasites and cancer. Positive relationships between malaria and virus-associated cancers are relatively well-documented; for example, malaria can reactivate the Epstein-Barr Virus, which is the known cause of endemic Burkitt lymphoma. Nevertheless, possible anti-tumour properties of malaria have also been reported and, interestingly, this disease has long been thought to be beneficial to patients suffering from cancers. Current knowledge of the potential pro- and anti-cancer roles of malaria suggests that, contrary to other eukaryotic parasites affecting humans, Plasmodium-related cancers are principally lymphoproliferative disorders and attributable to virus reactivation, whereas, similar to other eukaryotic parasites, the anti-tumour effects of malaria are primarily associated with carcinomas and certain sarcomas. Moreover, malarial infection significantly suppresses murine cancer growth by inducing both innate and specific adaptive anti-tumour responses. This review aims to present an update regarding the ambivalent association between malaria and cancer, and further studies may open future pathways to develop novel strategies for anti-cancer therapies.

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*Corresponding author: Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS, Centrale Marseille, I2M, UMR-7373, 13453 Marseille, France. E-mail:
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