Prostate Cancer Goes Viral

Prostate cancer may be associated with HPV and Epstein Barr viruses

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) The human papillomavirus (HPV) is linked to a number of cancers. And the Epstein Barr virus is associated with nasal cancer. It turns out these two viruses may have a mysterious association with yet another.

A new study shows that two common viruses—HPV and Epstein Barr—linked with cancer may be working together to worsen prostate tumors.

Results suggest that the HPV vaccine may help prevent prostate cancer.

"Talk to your doctor about cancer screening."

Scientists in Australia recently discovered both human papillomavirus (HPV) and Epstein Barr virus (EBV) in prostate cancer tissue. This may mean that the two viruses interact to increase the rate of growth of prostate cancer cells.

Noel Whitaker, professor in the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, co-led a study with professor James Lawson.

The study found HPV and EBV in 55 percent of 100 malignant prostate samples from Australian men. HPV alone was discovered in about 70 percent of the samples, and EBV alone was found in 40 percent.

“Recent unpublished experimental evidence by other researchers suggests that HPV and EBV can collaborate to promote the survival and proliferation of cancer cells, so our findings may well have important implications for understanding and preventing prostate cancer," Professor Whitaker said.

This is one of only a few studies—and the first Australian study—to find both HPV and EBV in the same tissue.

Although the viruses may not be harmful because they were found in normal, benign and malignant prostate tissues, Professor Whitaker said that “it would seem quite unlikely that they are harmless” given their well-established connection with other cancers.

Earlier research by these scientists found that HPV is present in about 40 percent of breast cancers. EBV has been associated with head and neck cancers.

Researchers in this study also noted that HPV 18, a high-risk strain of the virus was detected in the prostate samples. This strain is also linked to cervical cancer.

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends HPV vaccination for the prevention of most types of cervical cancer. There are two licensed HPV vaccines in the US. Cervarix is recommended for young women age 10 to 25, and Gardasil is recommended for females age 11 to 26.

CDC recommends Gardasil for all boys aged 11 or 12 years, and for males aged 13 through 21 years, who did not get any or all of the three recommended doses when they were younger.

Professor Whitaker said that this research indicates that the HPV vaccination may yet prove to have an unexpected direct benefit for boys in possibly preventing some cases of prostate cancer.

Dr. Anthony Lowe, CEO at the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, commented that, while Professor Whitaker’s research was interesting, it did not show that the viruses caused prostate cancer and more study would be needed to determine a “causal link.”

This study was first published online on July 31 in the journal The Prostate. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 6, 2012
Last Updated:
May 6, 2013