A COMMON parasite spread by cats could be a factor in causing prostate cancer in men, researchers have warned.

Scientists have discovered that the microscopic bug – known as Toxoplasma gondii – can trigger inflammation and the formation of cysts in the prostate gland.

Chronic inflammation is known to double the risk of developing the cancer. Until now, most researchers thought inflammation was caused by bacteria or viral infections that damage the tissue in the prostate.

But the new study, carried out only on mice, suggests for the first time that the bug, which is thought to infect a third of the population in the UK, could also be responsible. The parasite is carried by cats and is shed in their faeces. Humans can then be infected by drinking contaminated water, eating unwashed vegetables or handling cat litter trays.

More than 46,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year in the UK.

Dr Travis Jerde, a professor of toxicology at Indiana University and one of the study authors, said: ‘No one should be getting rid of their cat because of this study, but precautions should be taken when working or playing in areas where cats may have gone to the bathroom – like a garden or sandbox.’

© Mail On Sunday