Viral infections and breast cancer – A current perspective: Cancer Letters, Issue 420, 2018

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Viral infections and breast cancer – A current perspective

Authors: O.M. Gannon, A. Antonsson, I.C. Bennett, and N.A. Saunders This article was first published in Cancer Letters, 2018-04-28, Volume 420, Pages 182-189. Copyright © 2018 Elsevier B.V.


Sporadic human breast cancer is the most common cancer to afflict women. Since the discovery, decades ago, of the oncogenic mouse mammary tumour virus, there has been significant interest in the potential aetiologic role of infectious agents in sporadic human breast cancer.

To address this, many studies have examined the presence of viruses (e.g. papillomaviruses, herpes viruses and retroviruses), endogenous retroviruses and more recently, microbes, as a means of implicating them in the aetiology of human breast cancer. Such studies have generated conflicting experimental and clinical reports of the role of infection in breast cancer.

This review evaluates the current evidence for a productive oncogenic viral infection in human breast cancer, with a focus on the integration of sensitive and specific next generation sequencing technologies with pathogen discovery. Collectively, the majority of the recent literature using the more powerful next generation sequencing technologies fail to support an oncogenic viral infection being involved in disease causality in breast cancer.

In balance, the weight of the current experimental evidence supports the conclusion that viral infection is unlikely to play a significant role in the aetiology of breast cancer.


  • Conflicting reports about the role of infectious agents in the human breast cancer.
  • Recent next generation sequencing studies do not detect viruses in breast cancer.
  • Comprehensive review of past literature (pre next-gen sequencing).
  • Comprehensive review of modern literature (next-gen sequencing pathogen detection).
  • Concludes that modern technology does not support viral aetiology in breast cancer.

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