Viruses And Other Infectious Agents

The infectious theory of prostate cancer was fashionable twenty years ago, but most contemporary books do not even mention it. The neglect of this line of research is surprising, since approximately 15 percent of all cancers worldwide are caused by infectious agents. For example, Helicobacter pylori bacteria is associated with stomach cancer, hepatitis B virus with liver cancer, human papillomavirus with cervical cancer, Epstein-Barr virus with nasopharyngeal cancer, and human T-lymphocyte virus with some leukemias and lymphomas. Prostate cancer is also a type of cancer that increases in incidence in individuals whose immune system is suppressed; this correlation is consistent with an infectious process. Furthermore, when biopsies of prostatic tissue are examined under the microscope, inflammation is frequently present, consistent with infection. For all these reasons, infectious agents should be seriously considered as possible causes of prostate cancer.

The 1970s saw much interest in herpes simplex virus in prostate cancer. In 1973, for example, a research group at the University of Florida reported finding particles of this virus in prostate cancer cells.20 Subsequent reports have been both positive and negative, with the latter predominating.

Since 2002 there has been a resurgence of interest in viruses as possible causes of prostate cancer. Cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, human herpesvirus 8, human endogenous retrovirus E, and human polyomaviruses have all been reported in prostate tissue. It has been said that ''the prostate is a complex habitat where mixed infections with oncogenic [cancer causing] DNA viruses frequently occur and [this] opens the discussion to the potential role of these viruses in the cancer of the prostate.''21

Drawing the most attention as a candidate for causing prostate cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus is known to cause many cases of cervical cancer in women as well as some cancers of the penis and rectum in men. To date, more than twenty studies have asked whether HPV causes prostate cancer; the results have been contradictory, with the majority being negative.22 One difficulty in doing research on this virus, however, is that there are at least one hundred different human subtypes of HPV.

The big problem with research on viruses and other infectious agents is ascertaining cause and effect. Infectious agents can be found in many bodily tissues, but the fact that they are found there does not necessarily mean that they are causing cancer.

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