Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What Causes Breast Cancer?

What causes breast cancer? We know there are factors which raise or lower a woman's risk of developing the disease, but what is the mechanism that causes the cancer in the first place. I recently met a woman, Dr Kathleen Ruddy, who has a viable hypothesis. Dr Ruddy is head of the Breast Health and Healing Foundation. When I met her, she invited me to spend some time on the Foundation's website. Which I did. And I have to say, it kind of pissed me off.

Dr Ruddy is interested in exploring the possible connection between breast cancer and mouse mammary tumor virus. She has written about book about it, The Pink Virus, which she was kind enough to send to me and I will be reviewing here in a few weeks.

I have long suspected there might be a virus at work in breast cancer. I have to present at a meeting this afternoon on viruses and cancer. Most of us know about human papiloma virus and cervical cancer thanks to the advertisements for the HPV vaccine (it can also cause anal and penile cancers). Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C viruses can cause liver cancer. I heard recently about a possibly connection between Xenotropic Murine Leukemia Virus-Related Virus and prostate cancer (and a possible connection between XMLV and chronic fatigue syndrome, which I blogged on in a previous post). Did you know that there are links between Epstein-Barr Virus (the virus that causes mono) and Burkitt’s Lymphoma, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, B Lymphoproliferative Disease, and Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma? There are other viruses which have been linked to other cancers as well.

So why does the Foundation's web site irk me? Because if they are correct, if there is a link, why isn't there more research being done on this topic? If the cause is viral, there is potential to make vaccine. If the cause is viral, there is a potential to entangle the epidemiology and find different means of prevention. If it is viral, new treatment options may be available.

When I was a child, it was common knowledge that stress caused ulcers. This notion was so prevalent, I remember seeing the theme interwoven into TV shows. A character could clutch his stomach, and talk about his ulcer, and we, the viewers would accept this as a signal that he (because at that time it was always a he) was under too much stress. The antidote was to drink milk. And reduce stress. Of course now we know that many stomach ulcers are caused by a bacterial infection, H pylori, and can be treated with antibiotics.

It will be interesting to see what the research into cancer and viruses continues to discover.


  1. Thanks a lot for the great information. According to me, there are many women today facing problems of breast cancer. The detection of virus is very important that leads to breast cancer. There are many treatments available now. For more details refer what causes cancer

  2. Very well explained in detail. Now a days cancer is affecting lot many people, that it has become very important to have detailed information on different types of cancer.