Breast cancer incidence highest in the range of one species of house mouse, Mus domesticus

Br J Cancer. 2000 Jan;82(2):446-51. doi: 10.1054/bjoc.1999.0941.


Incidence of human breast cancer (HBC) varies geographically, but to date no environmental factor has explained this variation. Previously, we reported a 44% reduction in the incidence of breast cancer in women fully immunosuppressed following organ transplantation (Stewart et al (1995) Lancet 346: 796-798). In mice infected with the mouse mammary tumour virus (MMTV), immunosuppression also reduces the incidence of mammary tumours. DNA with 95% identity to MMTV is detected in 40% of human breast tumours (Wang et al (1995) Cancer Res 55: 5173-5179). These findings led us to ask whether the incidence of HBC could be correlated with the natural ranges of different species of wild mice. We found that the highest incidence of HBC worldwide occurs in lands where Mus domesticus is the resident native or introduced species of house mouse. Given the similar responses of humans and mice to immunosuppression, the near identity between human and mouse MTV DNA sequences, and the close association between HBC incidence and mouse ranges, we propose that humans acquire MMTV from mice. This zoonotic theory for a mouse-viral cause of HBC allows testable predictions and has potential importance in prevention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / virology
  • DNA, Neoplasm / genetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppression
  • Incidence
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Animal / epidemiology*
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Animal / genetics
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Animal / virology
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental
  • Mammary Tumor Virus, Mouse / pathogenicity
  • Mice*
  • Retroviridae Infections / complications*
  • Tumor Virus Infections / complications*
  • Zoonoses*


  • DNA, Neoplasm