Is there a role for SV40 in human cancer?

J Clin Oncol. 2006 Sep 10;24(26):4356-65. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2005.03.7101.


The question of whether Simian Virus 40 (SV40) can cause human tumors has been one of the most highly controversial topics in cancer research during the last 50 years. The longstanding debate began with the discovery of SV40 as a contaminant in poliovirus vaccine stocks that were used to inoculate approximately 100 million children and adults in the United States between 1955 and 1963, and countless more throughout the world. Concerns regarding the potential health risk of SV40 exposure were reinforced by studies demonstrating SV40's potential to transform human cells and promote tumor growth in animal models. Many studies have attempted to assess the relationship between the potential exposure of humans to SV40 and cancer incidence. Reports of the detection of SV40 DNA in a variety of cancers have raised serious concerns as to whether the inadvertent inoculation with SV40 has led to the development of cancer in humans. However, inconsistent reports linking SV40 with various tumor types has led to conflicting views regarding the potential of SV40 as a human cancer virus. Several recent studies suggest that older detection methodologies were flawed, and the limitations of these methods could account for most, if not all, of the positive correlations of SV40 in human tumors to date. Although many people may have been exposed to SV40 by polio vaccination, there is inadequate evidence to support widespread SV40 infection in the population, increased tumor incidence in those individuals who received contaminated vaccine, or a direct role for SV40 in human cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Viral / isolation & purification
  • Antigens, Polyomavirus Transforming / isolation & purification
  • DNA, Viral / isolation & purification
  • Drug Contamination*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / virology*
  • Poliovirus Vaccine, Inactivated / adverse effects
  • Poliovirus Vaccine, Oral / adverse effects
  • Poliovirus Vaccines / adverse effects*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Polyomavirus Infections / complications*
  • Polyomavirus Infections / etiology
  • Simian virus 40 / genetics
  • Simian virus 40 / immunology
  • Simian virus 40 / isolation & purification*
  • Tumor Virus Infections / complications*
  • Tumor Virus Infections / etiology
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Antigens, Polyomavirus Transforming
  • DNA, Viral
  • Poliovirus Vaccine, Inactivated
  • Poliovirus Vaccine, Oral
  • Poliovirus Vaccines