A recent study in the journal Cancer Discovery found that inhalation of harmful microbes can contribute to advanced stage lung cancer in adults. Long-term use of face masks may help breed these dangerous pathogens.
Microbiologists agree that frequent mask wearing creates a moist environment in which microbes are allowed to grow and proliferate before entering the lungs. Those foreign microbes then travel down the trachea and into two tubes called the bronchi until they reach small air sacks covered in blood vessels called alveoli.
“The lungs were long thought to be sterile, but we now know that oral commensals–microbes normally found in the mouth–frequently enter the lungs due to unconscious aspirations.” – Leopoldo Segal, Study Author and Director of the Lung Microbiome Program and Associate Professor of Medicine at New York University Grossman School of Medicine
According to the study, after invading the lungs these microbes cause an inflammatory response in proteins known as cytokine IL-17.
“Given the known impact of IL-17 and inflammation on lung cancer, we were interested in determining if the enrichment of oral commensals in the lungs could drive an IL-17-type inflammation and influence lung cancer progression and prognosis,” said Segal.
While analyzing lung microbes of 83 untreated adults with lung cancer, the research team discovered that colonies of Veillonella, Prevotella, and Streptococcus bacteria, which may be cultivated through prolonged mask wearing, are all found in larger quantities in patients with advanced stage lung cancer than in earlier stages.
The presence of these bacterial cultures is also associated with a lower chance of survival and increased tumor growth regardless of the stage.