Researchers based at the University of Utah and Columbia University Medical schools recently published a paper in PNAS providing evidence that a virus has been found in a large number of human prostate cancer cells. Can viruses cause cancer? Yes. These viruses are known as oncoviruses. One of the most well known viruses that cause cancer is the Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV) which has been most commonly liked to causing cervical cancer. Its highly controversial vaccine, Gardasil, is now available to all Grade 8 girls across the Province of Ontario. In the PNAS paper, researchers found the “Xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus” or XMRV for short, in 27 % of the prostate cancers they examined, and were generally associated with the more aggressive tumours. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, prostate cancer, aside from skin cancer, is the most prevalent cancer among Canadian men. Although this paper provides an interesting finding regarding the role of this particular virus and prostate cancer, it does not show causality. Future studies will need to address how the virus is transmitted, if it is in fact, causal (i.e. contracting the virus leads to cancer) or if it just an association. Regardless, this paper brings us one step closer to understanding the cause of some forms of prostate cancer, and hopefully will bring us closer to developing vaccines and treatments.
By Alisha Jamal, University of Toronto