Viruses in human cancers

Science. 1991 Nov 22;254(5035):1167-73. doi: 10.1126/science.1659743.


Viruses may contribute to the development of human tumors by different mechanisms: indirectly by inducing immunosuppression or by modifying the host cell genome without persistence of viral DNA; directly by inducing oncoproteins or by altering the expression of host cell proteins at the site of viral DNA integration. Human cancers associated with papillomavirus, hepatitis B virus, Epstein-Barr virus, and human T cell leukemia-lymphoma virus infections are responsible for approximately 15 percent of the worldwide cancer incidence. Cancer of the cervix and hepatocellular carcinoma account for about 80 percent of virus-linked cancers. Because experimental and epidemiologic data imply a causative role for viruses, particularly in cervical and liver cancer, viruses must be thought of as the second most important risk factor for cancer development in humans, exceeded only by tobacco consumption.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anus Neoplasms / microbiology
  • Female
  • Genital Neoplasms, Female / microbiology
  • Hepatitis B virus / pathogenicity
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / pathogenicity
  • Human T-lymphotropic virus 1 / pathogenicity
  • Humans
  • Leukemia-Lymphoma, Adult T-Cell / microbiology
  • Liver Neoplasms / microbiology
  • Neoplasms / microbiology*
  • Oncogenic Viruses*
  • Papillomaviridae / pathogenicity