Virus Linked to Prostate Cancer

Virus May Be Behind Aggressive Forms of Prostate Cancer

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 8, 2009 -- A virus may be responsible for some prostate cancers and hold clues to the cause of the deadly disease, according to a new study.

Xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) has been previously linked to leukemia and sarcomas in animals, but researchers say this has more recently been identified in human prostate cancer samples.

"We found that XMRV was present in 27% of prostate cancers we examined and that it was associated with more aggressive tumors," researcher Ila R. Singh, MD, PhD, associate professor of pathology at the University of Utah, says in a news release.

If further studies confirm that the virus causes prostate cancer, researchers say it would open new avenues for diagnostic tests, vaccines, and therapies for treating prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer affects one in six American men and is the most common type of cancer among men after skin cancer.

Clues to Prostate Cancer's Cause

Previous studies have shown that a small group of men with a certain genetic variation were more susceptible to infection with XMRV, and the virus was present in about 10% of prostate cancer samples.

In this study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers examined about 200 cancerous prostate samples as well as 100 non-cancerous prostate samples.

They found 27% of the prostate cancers contained either XMRV DNA or proteins compared to 6% of healthy prostate cells. The virus was also more likely to be found in more aggressive prostate cancers.

In addition, the presence of XMRV was found in malignant prostate cancer cells, a finding that indicates the virus may be directly related to the formation of prostate cancer tumors or possibly that the virus has a preference to replicate within prostate cancer cells.

Finally, researchers say infection with XMRV was seen regardless of whether the men had the genetic variation making them susceptible to it, which would expand the "at-risk" population from a small group of genetically predisposed men to all men.

Viruses have previously been shown to cause other types of cancer, including cancer of the cervix and immune system (lymphoma).

XMRV is a retrovirus that is known to cause cancer in animals but has not been proven to cause cancer in humans. However, researchers say these results show the virus merits further investigation as a potential cause of prostate cancer.

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SOURCES: Schlaberg, R. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Sept. 7, 2009, online edition. News release, University of Utah. News release, Cleveland Clinic.

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