Epstein-Barr virus 'may put women at increased breast cancer risk'

3 August 2016

Women who are infected with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) may be at a greater risk of going on to develop breast cancer, according to new research.

A study from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has discovered that the common virus binds to the CD21 receptor on normal breast cells, leading to infection and causing the cells to take on characteristics of stem cells, which keep dividing in a way that accelerates the formation of breast cancer.

When the investigators analysed breast cells called primary mammary epithelial cells that were infected with EBV, they found genetic characteristics associated with high-grade, oestrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer - a particularly aggressive form of the disease.

EBV is one of eight known viruses in the herpes family to infect humans and is also one of the most common virus types. More than 90 per cent of the world's population carries EBV, with most experiencing no effects from infection.

The virus has also been linked to a number of other cancers including African Burkitt lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, gastric adenocarcinoma and leiomyosarcoma.

Dr Gerburg Wulf, a physician scientist in the haematology/oncology division at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said: "The findings further make the case for an EBV vaccine that might protect children from infection and later EBV-associated malignancies."

Posted by Philip Briggs


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