- The twentieth century was indeed the century of Modern
Medicine with tremendous strides made in the understanding and control
of infectious diseases, as well as the introduction of life-saving antibiotics
and vaccines. Unfortunately, along with these advances came the perils
of genetic engineering, the increasing threat of newly emerging viruses,
biowarfare, and bioterrorism
- Despite these scientific achievements, the cause of cancer
remains a mystery. Scientists suspect genetic susceptibility, possible
cancer-causing viruses, and environmental factors might play a role in
some cancers, but none of these factors explain why millions of people
die yearly from a variety of malignancies.
- William Russell 1852-1940, as pictured in
The British Medical Journal, August 24, 1940.
- How could scientists put men on the moon, but remain
so ignorant about cancer and its origin? How can the infectious causes
of tuberculosis, leprosy, syphilis, smallpox, polio, malaria, and other
viral and bacterial and parasitic diseases be understood, but the cause
of cancer be unknown? Could the cause of cancer conceivably be an infectious
agent that has been overlooked, ignored, or unrecognized by medical doctors
in the twentieth century? Could the germ of cancer be hidden in the Russell
body? - a large microscopic form known to every pathologist for over a
- William Russell (1852-1940) and "the parasite
- On December 3, 1890 William Russell, a pathologist in
the School of Medicine at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, gave an address
to the Pathological Society of London in which he outlined his histopathologic
findings of "a characteristic organism of cancer" that he observed
microscopically in fuchsine-stained tissue sections from all forms of cancer
that he examined, as well as in certain cases of tuberculosis, syphilis
and skin infection.
- The parasite was seen within the tissue
cells (intracellular) and outside the cells (extracellular). The size of
Russell's parasite ranged from barely visible, up to "half again as
large as a red blood corpuscle." The largest round forms were easily
seen microscopically. The large size of some of these bodies suggested
a fungal or yeast-like parasite. Russell provisionally classified the parasite
as a possible "blastomycete" (a type of fungus); and called the
forms "fuchsine bodies" because of their bluish-red staining
- Microbiology was still in its infancy in Russell's era,
and it was generally thought that each microbe could only give rise to
a single disease. Thus, the idea of a cancer germ (especially one that
could also be identified in TB and syphilis) was received cautiously. Nine
years later in 1899, in yet another report on "The parasite of cancer"
appearing in The Lancet (April 29), Russell admitted that finding cancer
parasites in diseases other than cancer was indeed a "stumbling block."
By this time a considerable number of scientists concluded that Russell
bodies were merely the result of cellular degeneration of one kind or another.
Furthermore, no consistent microbe was cultured from tumors; and the inoculation
of these microbes into animals produced conflicting and often negative
- Russell was trained as a pathologist, not as a microbiologist,
and he avoided getting into the bacteriologic controversies regarding various
microbes grown from cancer. He simply concluded, "It seems almost
needless to add that there remains abundant work to be done in this important
and attractive field."
- After three years' work at the New York State Pathological
Laboratory of the University of Buffalo, Harvey Gaylord confirmed Russell's
research in a 36 page report titled "The protozoon of cancer",
published in May, 1901, in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences.
Gaylord found the small forms and the large sacs characteristic of Russell
bodies in every cancer he examined. Some large spherical bodies were four
times the diameter of a leukocyte (white blood cell). Red blood cells measure
about 7 micron in diameter and leukocytes are 2 to 3 times larger than
red blood cells. Thus, some of the bodies that Gaylord observed attained
the amazing size of around 50 micron in diameter. In addition, he found
evidence of internal segmentation within the larger bodies "after
the manner recognized in malarial parasites." The tiniest forms appeared
the size of ordinary staphylococci.
Russell bodies in a lymph node of Hodgkin's disease.
Gram's stain, magnified 1000 times, (in oil).
- Russell's 1899 paper ended his writings of a cancer parasite,
but his discovery quickly became known to pathologists as Russell bodies.
These bodies continue to fascinate researchers and physicians (like myself)
up to the present time.
- Solitary "giant" Russell body in a
lymph node of Hodgkin's disease
(cancer), magnified 1000 times. Gram's stain, magnified 1000 times.
- When Russell died at the age of 89 in 1940, the British
Medical Journal published a large obituary noting that he was universally
respected and embued with the dignity and highest ideals of his profession,
and that he had served at one time as President of the Royal College of
Physicians. No mention was made of his "parasites" or his "bodies",
except to remark that "in his earlier years Russell devoted much time
to the study of the cancer cell." Similarly, a large obituary appeared
in the Edinburgh Medical Journal along with a full-page photo. His published
books on Clinical Methods and widely read texts on circulation and gastro-intestinal
diseases were cited, but not a word about his discovery in cancer.
- The heresy of "the cancer microbe"
- By the early part of the twentieth century the top cancer
experts had all rejected so-called "cancer parasites" as the
cause of cancer. The most influential physician to speak against it was
James Ewing, an American pathologist and author of the widely-read textbook,
Neoplastic Diseases. In 1919 Ewing wrote that "few competent observers
consider it (the parasitic theory) as a possible explanation in cancer."
According to Ewing and other authorities, cancer did not act like an infection.
Therefore, microbes could not possibly cause cancer. He concluded, "The
general facts of the genesis of tumors are strongly against the possibility
of a parasitic origin."
- As a result, the parasitic theory was totally discarded
and few doctors dared to contradict Ewing's dogma by continuing to search
for an infectious agent in cancer. Nevertheless, a few die-hard physicians
remained convinced microbes were at the root cause of cancer and wrote
about it convincingly in medical journals. The long history of this research
is recorded in my book, The Cancer Microbe (1990) and anyone with internet
access can do a Google search (type in "cancer microbe") and
obtain a wealth of information on the microbiology of cancer. Another excellent
history of cancer microbiology and the suppression of this controversial
research is contained in David Hess' Can Bacteria Cause Cancer? (1997).
Photo #5: Larger Russell bodies (RB) in a lymph node showing non-cancerous
"reactive lymph node hyperplasia" from a fatal case of AIDS.
The arrow points to nearby bacterial-sized intracellular coccoid smaller
forms from which the Russell bodies are derived. Fite (acid-fast) stain,
magnified 1000 times.
- In the 1920s James Young, an obstetrician from Scotland,
repeatedly grew pleomorphic (having many forms) bacteria from various cancers.
The microbes had a "specific life cycle" and "spore stages"
comprised of exceedingly tiny and barely visible spores. In the laboratory
these tiny spores transformed into larger coccoid (round) forms, rod-forms
and yeast-like forms (similar in size to Russell bodies). John Nuzum, a
Chicago physician, reported a pleomorphic coccus he repeatedly isolated
from breast cancer. The tiniest forms were virus-like and passed through
a filter designed to hold back bacteria.
- In 1925 Northwest Medicine published two papers by Michael
Scott, a Montana surgeon who learned about the cancer microbe in TJ Glover's
lab in 1921. Scott's microbe was similar to Young's. The parasite had a
life cycle composed of three stages: a coccus, a rod, and a "spore
sac" stage. Scott believed cancer was an infection like tuberculosis
and attempted a vaccine treatment, but his treatment methods were quickly
suppressed by the medical establishment.
- In the 1930s in Germany the controversial Wilhelm von
Brehmer described microbes in the blood of cancer patients, evoking the
wrath of his scientific colleagues and prompting an intervention by Adolf
Hitler. (See Proctor's The Nazi War on Cancer ) Georges Mazet, a
French physician, also found pleomorphic bacteria in Hodgkin's disease
in 1941. Hodgkin's is a type of lymphoma cancer involving the lymphatic
system. Mazet later reported similar acid-fast (red staining) bacteria
in many different kinds of cancer, including leukemia.
- In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, a quartet of women further
refined the microbiology of cancer, emphasizing the extreme pleomorphism
of the organism and its detection in tissue with the acid-fast stain. The
published research of Virginia Livingston, Eleanor Alexander-Jackson, Irene
Diller and Florence Seibert, is essential reading for the most updated
understanding of the microbiology of cancer.
- In the late 1970s Guido Tedeschi and other Italian microbiologists
at the University of Camerino discovered "granules" in the red
blood cells of healthy and ill people that turned out to be bacteria that
could be cultured in the laboratory. Some of the staphylococcal and corynebacteria-like
bacteria cultured from the red blood cells were acid-fast and cell wall-deficient,
a staining and growth characteristic shared with the cancer microbe. This
research has been confirmed by newer studies suggesting that bacteria reside
in blood from healthy as well as sick individuals. These findings of tiny
blood bacteria (nanobacteria) provide further evidence to support the theory
that microbes can cause cancer.
- Some other well-known scientists in the field of cancer
microbiology include Gunther Enderlein, Royal Raymond Rife, Gaston Naessens
and Wilhelm Reich. All have web sites devoted to their cancer research.
- Russell bodies and their Origin
- More than a century has passed since Russell's discovery
and although electron microscopes (which have been used since the 1950s)
have the ability to magnify objects tens of thousands of times, the significance
and function of his bodies still remains unknown.
- What is well-known is that Russell bodies can be found,
not only in cancer, but in the majority of inflamed tissues throughout
the body. Distinguishing large Russell bodies from actual fungal forms
of Blastomyces can still be difficult, particularly when a pathologist
encounters a true case of fungal infection due to Blastomyces.
- In 1954 RG White, in "Observations on the formation
and nature of Russell bodies", produced Russell bodies in animals
by injecting them with different species of bacteria. He then studied the
ensuing development of these bodies in the spleen, lymph nodes and plasma
cells of the injected animals. Plasma cells are specialized forms of white
blood cells that normally produce antibodies.
- EM Schleicher, in his 1965 paper on "Giant Russell
bodies", discusses the various theories of origin. Possibilities include
origin from the lymphocyte, origin in plasma cells with later degeneration,
origin from the mitochondria of cells, and even an origin from a red blood
cell (erythrocyte) swallowed up by a plasma cell.
- Most researchers currently believe Russell bodies are
essentially immunoglobulins (proteins that acts as antibodies), but an
electron microscopic study by SM Hsu et al. in 1981 has cast some doubt
on this belief.
- None of these studies mention the possibility that Russell
bodies might represent unusual large growth forms of bacteria. However,
if Russell bodies prove to be tiny intracellular microbes that grow and
enlarge within leukocytes, it would be natural to expect these white blood
cells (especially the plasma cell) to produce an antibody attack against
these invading organisms, resulting in the production of immunoglobulin-coated
cells and organisms.
- Bacterial transformation into Giant forms (L-form
- There are many different kinds of bacteria but only one
type that has been consistently observed and studied in cancer for over
a century. The cancer microbe has many forms, some of which appear as ordinary
staphylococci or larger yeast-like forms that further enlarge to the size
of Russell bodies. As mentioned, some Russell bodies enlarge to truly gigantic
proportions, one hundred times the diameter of small cocci. One can liken
this growth potential to an empty balloon that is then blown up to full-size.
In addition, the microbe has exceedingly small filterable submicroscopic
forms approaching the size of viruses, visible only by use of the electron
- Scientists who have extensively studied the cancer microbe
claim it most closely resembles the type bacteria that cause tuberculosis
and leprosy- the so-called mycobacteria. Mycobacteria are closely related
to fungi; and some microbiologists claim mycobacteria are essentially derived
from the "higher" fungi. "Myco" in Greek means fungus.
Ergo, mycobacteria are considered fungus-like bacteria.
Photo #6: Extremely large "super-giant-sized" solitary
Russell body in the skin of "cutaneous lupus erythematosus",
a so-called "collagen disease." The perfectly round shape, except
for one area, suggests this large body is developing inside a cell that
is readly to burst. Kinyoun's (acid-fast) stain, magnification x 1000.
- During the 1960s microbiologist Louis Dienes popularized
the terms "cell wall-deficient" and "L form" to encompass
bacterial growth stages that exist at one extreme as small filterable virus-sized
forms, and at the opposite extreme as large (50 micron or larger) spherical
forms that he termed "large bodies." These so-called large bodies
are what I believe Russell bodies represent.
- It must be understood that microbes are partially "classified"
in microbiology according to size. Viruses are submicroscopic and cannot
be visualized with an ordinary light microscope. Unlike bacteria, viruses
can only replicate inside a cell. Bacteria can be seen microscopically,
but smaller submicroscopic and filterable bacterial forms (now known as
nanobacteria) are also known. Fungi and yeast forms are much larger than
bacteria, and "mold" can obviously be seen with the naked eye.
- Larger Russell bodies are indeed similar in size to certain
spore forms of fungi. However, what is generally not appreciated is that
bacteria can grow into fungal-sized large bodies, depending on certain
laboratory conditions. Thus, bacteria in this form can easily be mistaken
for fungi and yeast organisms.
- Giant-sized L-forms greatly resemble large-sized Russell
bodies. The century-old history of research into atypical growth forms
of bacteria is reviewed in Lida Mattman's seminal text, Cell Wall Deficient
Forms: Stealth Pathogens (1993). A knowledge of this somewhat esoteric
branch of microbiology is essential to understand the proposed microbiology
- The most impressive electron microscopic photographs
I have ever observed of cell wall-deficient L-forms of mycobacteria were
taken by the late C Xalabarder of Barcelona. In a series of papers and
books (1953-1976) published in Spanish (with English-language summaries)
by the Publicaciones del Instituto Antituberculoso "Francisco Moragas",
Xalabarder totally transformed my concept about how tuberculosis-causing
mycobacteria reproduce and grow and drastically change their appearance.
In medical school we were taught that "simple" bacteria simply
divide in two equal halves by "binary fission". However, nothing
could be further from the truth, and it is only by a refutation of this
simplistic concept that a serious study of the microbiology of cancer can
- Tuberculosis and Cancer
- Because cancer is produced by a microbe similar to the
bacteria that cause TB, much can be learned from experiments like those
performed by Xalabarder in 1967. Using "atypical mycobacteria"
grown from TB patients who had taken long courses of drug therapy, Xalabarder
then injected these bacteria into guinea-pigs and rabbits. Amazingly, he
was able to experimentally produce lesions which microscopically resembled
cancer! He also produced experimental lesions characteristic of so called
"collagen disease"- a type of lesion seemingly unrelated to cancer.
- During the 1960s I discovered unusual pleomorphic acid-fast
bacteria in a collagen disease called scleroderma, and later in another
collagen disease called lupus erythematosus. The germs I grew from these
patients closely resembled scleroderma microbes that were reported by Virginia
Livingston in 1947, and which subsequently led to her discovery of similar
acid-fast microbes in cancer.
- In 1969 Xalabarder manipulated different developmental
stages of TB bacteria and inoculated them into one thousand guinea pigs.
In the process, he produced the microscopic picture of sarcoidosis in the
animals. Sarcoidosis is a human disease closely related to TB but one in
which TB germs cannot be found. Xalabarder's most impressive sarcoid lesions
were produced by inoculating sputum specimens from TB patients who "converted",
meaning that their TB bacteria could no longer be cultured from their sputum.
Controversy over the cause of sarcoidosis is still not settled, although
I reported bacteria similar to cancer microbes in this disease in the 1980s.
- The most spectacular electron microphotographs of cell
wall-deficient mycobacteria are presented in Xalabarder's L-forms of mycobacteria
and chronic nephritis (1970). In the earliest growth stages of mycobacteria
in culture the smallest elements appear as tiny submicroscopic forms visualized
only with the electron microscope. These filterable forms of tuberculosis
bacteria - the so-called "tuberculosis virus"- have been known
to cause cancer in animals since the 1920s. By adding antibiotics to the
lab culture media Xalabarder was able to induce many unusual growth forms
of tuberculosis bacteria. Using serial images, he was able to trace the
development of these tiny submicroscopic forms up to the size of ordinary
cocci - and then up to the size of "large body" forms reaching
and even surpassing the size of red blood cells. Some of the large bodies
of mycobacteria also exhibit internal structure, similar to what Gaylord
noted in his Russell body research.
- Cancer and Bacteria
- Although the idea of a cancer microbe is medical heresy,
there is ample data to show that cancer patients are highly prone to bacterial
infection. A PubMed computer search (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi)
- of "bacteria + cancer" elicits 49, 244 citations
contained within 2,463 web pages. According to a 2003 article by Vento
and Cainelli, patients with cancer who are undergoing chemotherapy are
highly susceptible to almost any type of bacterial or fungal infection.
- Why are physicians, and especially pathologists and bacteriologists,
so unaware, so disinterested, or so antagonistic to credible cancer microbe
research? Why have pathologists failed to consider Russell bodies as large
forms of bacteria?
- For over 30 years I studied various forms of cancer and
skin diseases "of unknown origin", as well as autopsy cases of
cancer, lupus, scleroderma, and AIDS. In all these diseases I was able
to detect bacteria, although pathologists would never mention bacteria
in any of their official biopsy reports. In my experience, they simply
could not conceive of cancer and collagen disease (and AIDS) as a bacterial
infection, nor did they seem to be aware of bacteriology reports pertaining
to "large bodies" and pathologic effects produced by the "tuberculosis
virus." In short, they were trained to see and report only the typical
rod-shaped acid-fast (red-stained) "typical" form of mycobacteria,
, but they were not trained to look for or to recognize other growth forms
of the same bacteria that might be hidden in their pathologic tissue specimens.
- Photo #7: Pleomorphic growth forms (L-forms) of tuberculosis
mycobacteria photographed with an electron microscope. Note the darker
staining tiny coccal forms (similar in size to ordinary staphylococci)
and the larger clear balloon-sized "ghost" forms similar in size
and shape to Russell bodies found in tissue. These forms are all characteristic
of "cell wall-deficient bacteria" and totally unlike the well-known
"typical" acid-fast rod forms of Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Reproduced from L-forms of Mycobacteria and Chronic Nephritis (1970), by
Dr. C. Xalabarder P., page 51.
- When objects like Russell bodies are observed in a wide
variety of diseases and in "normal" tissue, the significance
is lessened. Doctors expect "normal" tissue to be free of microbes.
I suppose they also conclude that Russell bodies cannot be an infectious
agent because it would be impossible for an infectious agent to appear
in so many different kinds of diseases and in so many different forms of
- For most of the last century stomach ulcers were thought
to be non-infectious because pathologists could not identify bacteria in
the ulcers and because doctors believed bacteria could not live in the
acid environment of the stomach. This thinking all changed gradually after
1982 when Barry Marshall, an Australian physician, proved most stomach
ulcers were caused by a microbe called Helicobacter pylori, which could
be identified microscopically with special tissue staining techniques in
ulcer tissue. On the other hand, many people normally carry this stomach
microbe without any ill effects. Not surprisingly, pathologists are now
reporting numerous Russell bodies in plasma cells in some ulcer patients,
giving rise to a previously unrecognized tissue reaction called "Russell
- Russell bodies and bacteria
- When bacteria are threatened by the immune system or
by antibiotics they may lose their cell-wall and assume a different growth
form that renders them less susceptible to attack by the immune system.
Some Russell bodies elicit little or no inflammatory cell response. This
lack of cellular response is yet another reason why physicians have a hard
time believing Russell bodies could be microbes.
- I have observed the largest and most complex Russell
bodies in tissue where there was almost a total lack of inflammation. My
photographs of such "large bodies", some with obvious internal
structure, that I observed in patients with scleroderma and pseudoscleroderma,
were published in the American Journal of Dermatopathology in 1980. The
first case of fatal scleroderma I studied in 1963 had numerous "large
bodies" in the fat layer of the diseased skin that were unlike anything
ever seen in dermatology. The patient had been hospitalized for pulmonary
tuberculosis 7 years before developing scleroderma. The mystery of these
"yeast-like" bodies deep in his skin was solved years later when
I first learned about the existence of "large body" forms of
Mycobacterium tuberculosis. When this patient died, Mycobacterium fortuitum,
an "atypical" form of mycobacteria was cultured from his scleroderma
- Bacteria are vital for our survival. They are hardy and
the bacteria we carry will surely outlive us. The bacteria that cause cancer
are the "simple" bacteria we carry with us. The cancer microbe
is not an exotic microbe nor a rare one. However, bacteria can change form
as the environment in our bodies changes. There is indeed a delicate balance
between our bacteria and our immune system which allows these bacteria
to live in harmony with us.
- But when dis-ease occurs these microbes become aggressive,
giving rise to a host of diseases, some of which are cancerous, and others
that are inflammatory, degenerative, or simply transitory. Another reason
for physicians to doubt that a single type of germ could cause such a variety
of pathologic effects.
- Bacteria are ubiquitous and so are Russell bodies. And
if Russell bodies prove to be bacteria, the reason for this becomes obvious.
- The Russell body and the origin of cancer
- In 1981 King and Eisenberg's article on "Russell's
fuchsin body: 'The characteristic organism of cancer' " appeared in
the American Journal of Dermatopathology. They reconfirmed that "Russell
bodies have now been shown to be immunoglobulins." They remarked that
Russell was not the first to describe them; and that similar bodies were
reported by Cornil and Alvarez in rhinoscleroma five years earlier in a
French journal in 1885. Declaring it ironic that these "bodies should
bear the name of a man who so thoroughly misunderstood them", the
authors ended by stating: "Hence, when the term Russell body is used
today, one should be aware that the eponym is as inaccurate as was Russell's
perception of their significance."
- Unlike King and Eisenberg, I believe Russell was right
on the mark. There is a parasite in cancer. It has been studied and reported
by various scientists throughout the world for many decades, and a wealth
of scientific information on the cancer microbe is available in medical
libraries. For those with Internet capability, the words "cancer microbe"
typed into Google.com will give instant access to a treasure trove of information
on the subject.
- There is no secret to cancer. In my view, the cause is
staring us right in the face in the form of the Russell body. William Russell
understood very well in the nineteenth century what medical science in
the twenty-first century has yet to discover.
- Alan Cantwell, M.D. is a retired dermatologist and cancer
researcher. His book, The Cancer Microbe, is available through Internet
sources. A number of his full-length papers on the microbiology of cancer
can be found on the net at the Journal of Independent Medical Research
web site (www.joimr.org/) Email: email@example.com