The polyomavirus simian virus 40 (SV40) is a known oncogenic DNA virus which induces primary brain and bone cancers, malignant mesothelioma, and lymphomas in laboratory animals. Persuasive evidence now indicates that SV40 is causing infections in humans today and represents an emerging pathogen. A meta-analysis of molecular, pathological, and clinical data from 1,793 cancer patients indicates that there is a significant excess risk of SV40 associated with human primary brain cancers, primary bone cancers, malignant mesothelioma, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Experimental data strongly suggest that SV40 may be functionally important in the development of some of those human malignancies. Therefore, the major types of tumors induced by SV40 in laboratory animals are the same as those human malignancies found to contain SV40 markers. The Institute of Medicine recently concluded that "the biological evidence is of moderate strength that SV40 exposure could lead to cancer in humans under natural conditions." This review analyzes the accumulating data that indicate that SV40 is a pathogen which has a possible etiologic role in human malignancies. Future research directions are considered.