Could Prostate Cancer Be Caused by a Sexually Transmitted Virus?

By Eliza Strickland | September 9, 2009 7:00 am

prostate cancer cellsIt’s possible that the most severe forms of prostate cancer are caused by a virus that might be sexually transmitted, according to a new study that will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week. Researchers checked for the virus in more than 200 prostate cancer patients and found the virus in 27 percent of the men; those with the most aggressive tumors were most likely to have the virus. While the researchers haven’t proved causation, they note that viruses are known to cause a variety of human cancers. Hepatitis viruses, for example, cause liver cancer, while human papilloma virus causes cervical cancer in women and anal and penile cancer in men [Los Angeles Times].

The virus, known as XMRV, belongs to a family of viruses that has previously been shown to cause leukemia in lab animals. Like the HIV virus, XMRV is a retrovirus, a virus that gets incorporated into the genome of the cells it infects. It may trigger cancer by locating in the cell’s genome next to DNA that controls cell growth, and disrupting those genes in a way that allows cells to replicate uncontrollably [Bloomberg].

Study coauthor Ila Singh says the findings might aid prostate cancer diagnoses. “There is a need for a better test to help determine who would benefit from treatment versus who could be left alone…. If this virus turns out to be a cause for a subset of aggressive tumors, then it would be a good test to use” [Bloomberg], she says. Finding a viral cause of some forms of prostate cancer would also encourage researchers to look for a vaccine that could guard against the virus.

While some experts say evidence is mounting that the XMRV virus is sexually transmitted, Singh is more cautious, saying, “We can’t really say that it’s an STD at this point.” Her lab is looking for XMRV in semen and also in women’s cervical samples [The Scientist].

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80beats: Men Over 75 Can Skip the Prostate Cancer Screening

Image: R. Schlaberg and H. M. Thaker. Malignant cells from a prostate tumor that contain the virus.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • YouRang

    The X stands for xenotropic. The dictionary says xenotropic means the virus exists BENIGNLY in tissues of one species but will only replicate into viral particles in another species. So which species has the benignly existing DNA–mouse or human? And which has the virus particles–mouse or human?

  • robot makes music

    Well Dear YouRang – mice weren’t mentioned in the article, just lab animals. And they said it caused leukemia in lab animals, prostate cancer in humans.

    Please check wikipedia before embarrassing yourself in public.

  • http://TwoSistersArtandSoul Lisette Root

    I suspect that many viruses have intimate relationships with cancers. I support this line of research, and am curious to see what the future brings. Hopefully, the lessening of suffering.

  • Christina Viering

    Hope the answer is found.

  • Frank

    Robotripper, thanks for the wiki. You should apoligize to Lurch so that you don’t get grounded and miss the big dance.

  • Roberta M. Soyars

    Why are we not too surprised? It’s been known for some time, that some forms of leukemia are caused by a sexually transmitted virus. Not to mention the cause of cervical cancer, the human papilloma virus. Cherchez le retrovirus!

  • Rosci T

    Very interesting. This is anecdotal – but sometimes that carries a grain of truth — Every woman I know who has had cervical cancer has had sex recently with a man who was diagnosed with prostate cancer. So did one feed the other? And which one fed which? Are they the same virus in different form at the core? And is that a connection they also need to explore?

    It’s exciting that they’ve made it this far. Interesting to watch the next iteration.

  • HIFU for Prostate Cancer

    All treatment options should be looked at by patients that need prostate cancer treatment. There are too many options not to look at that may prevent incontinence and impotence, i.e. preserving your life!

  • Judson

    uhh… the virus originated in mice and migrated to humans … about 100-1000 years ago. It is about 98% similar to most murine leukemia viruses currently sequenced in pubmed. these aren’t neccessarily benign in host animals… although most mice now have mutations that protect them from the virus. in non mice animals these viruses can cause a number of problems and have been studied for decades in animals. this is suprising, because they weren’t originally linked to human disorders. this same virus is now linked to chronic fatigue syndrome… 98% of CFS patients test positive for it.

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