Cancers of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) are expected to account for approximately 20% of all cancers in 2017. Apart from their high incidence, GIT cancers show high mortality rates, placing these malignancies among the most prominent public health issues of our time.
Cancers of the GIT are the result of a complex interplay between host genetic factors and environmental factors and frequently arise in the context of a continued active inflammatory response. Several tumor viruses are able to elicit such chronic inflammatory responses. In fact, several viruses have an impact on GIT tumor initiation and progression, as well as on patients' response to therapy and prognosis, through direct and indirect mechanisms.
In this review, we have gathered information on different viruses' rates of infection, viral-driven specific carcinogenesis mechanisms and viral-related impact on the prognosis of cancers of the GIT (specifically in organs that have an interface with the environment - esophagus, stomach, intestines and anus). Overall, while some viral infections show a strong causal relation with specific gastrointestinal cancers, these represent a relatively small fraction of GIT malignancies. Other types of cancer, like Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma, require further studies to confirm the carcinogenic role of some viral agents.