Lyme disease, caused by the borrelia bacteria, can cause a wide variety of different health issues – even after it has been treated. The bacteria can evade detection by the immune system in many ways. It inhibits the action of the immune system, changes its own outer membrane antigens so that immune cells can’t detect it, and hides within tissues in the body. It isn’t just the immune system that can get confused by the borrelia bacteria, but antibiotics as well. Because of the way borrelia biofilm blocks antibiotics from getting inside the extracellular matrix, antibiotics can be ineffective at killing it.
Due to these sly functionalities of the Lyme disease-inducing bacteria, it can often lead to the development of further health complications. But just how serious can these complications be? Does Lyme disease increase cancer risk, for example?
Does Lyme disease lead to other diseases?
When someone has the borrelia bacteria in their body for a long enough time, it can spread to various areas such as the joints, the heart, and even the brain. Because of the bacteria’s ability to evade detection and spread throughout the body, untreated Lyme disease can lead to the development of several different ailments such as Lyme arthritis, neuropathy, facial palsy, impaired memory, headaches, heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, and nerve pain.
While not all damage done by Lyme disease leads to permanent health issues, research has shown that recovering from Lyme can take years following the initial infection. In the event that a person’s joints or nervous system become greatly affected by the borrelia bacteria, the damage can be permanent, and symptoms will continue to occur. When this happens, further antibiotic treatment is needed.
Some new research is suggesting that it isn’t just post-Lyme disease syndrome that people have to worry about, however. Lyme disease may actually increase your risk of developing cancer.
What decides a person’s cancer risk?
A person’s risk for developing cancer depends on a lot of factors. Aging is one factor that, sadly, no one can avoid – cancer risk tends to increase as a person becomes older. Another unavoidable risk factor is family history or genetics. A person cannot change their DNA, and depending on their genetic makeup, they may be more likely to develop some types of cancers in their lifetime. Other non-avoidable factors that contribute to cancer risk include:
- A weakened immune system
- Hormonal imbalances
There are avoidable factors that increase cancer risk. These include:
- Smoking tobacco
- Excessive alcohol use
- Viral infections
- Exposure to certain chemicals or toxins
- Exposure to radiation, such as the ultraviolet radiation the comes from the sun
- Eating a diet that lacks essential vitamins and nutrients and is high in processed foods, sugars, or other additives
- Not getting enough exercise
- Chronic inflammation in the body from high stress, poor diet, or other lifestyle-related reasons
The combination of both unavoidable and avoidable cancer risk factors is the major determinant of whether or not a person develops the deadly disease.
Can Lyme cause leukemia?
The connection between Lyme disease and cancer isn’t well defined. However, medical researchers have recently examined whether or not the bacterial infection that causes Lyme disease can lead to the development of leukemia – a form of cancer that develops in the blood, bone marrow, or immune system. Leukemia develops from immune cells known as leukocytes, which help the body fight off infection and other diseases. Leukemia occurs when these cells grow and divide rapidly. So far, however, there is no strong evidence to support the connection between Lyme disease and leukemia.
The same cannot be said for Lyme disease and lymphoma. Lymphomas are types of cancers that affect immune cells known as lymphoid cells. According to the American Cancer Society, having Lyme disease can increase the risk of developing skin lymphomas.
The Lyme disease cancer connection
There is another aspect of Lyme disease that leads some scientists to believe it can increase the risk of cancer: inflammation. As many as 25% of cancers develop because of infections and inflammation, and since Lyme disease causes widespread inflammation throughout the body, it’s possible that it lends a hand in the development of cancer. Although researchers are not quite clear on how it all works, it’s thought that inflammation can damage DNA, which leads to genetic mutations that turn into cancer.
While it’s not yet clear on whether or not Lyme disease can increase the risk of developing cancer, some research is suggesting that it might. This makes it all the more important to avoid being bitten by ticks that may be infected with the borrelia bacteria.