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Clin Cancer Res. 2004 Nov 1;10(21):7284-9.

Mouse mammary tumor virus-like RNA transcripts and DNA are found in affected cells of human breast cancer.

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  • 1Virology Division, Department of Microbiology, South Eastern Sydney Area Laboratory Services, Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, Australia.


Identifiable risk factors for the development of breast cancer include age, diet, family history, and lifetime estrogen exposure. An infectious agent (mouse mammary tumor virus; MMTV) is known to cause murine breast tumors and may be involved in the pathogenesis of human disease. Multiple studies have detected MMTV-like sequences in 30 to 60% of breast cancer samples and up to 1.8% of samples from normal breast. Using in situ PCR of MMTV-like sequences of formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded breast tissue, viral sequences have been located in cancerous epithelial cells in breast acini of male and female breast tumors, but not in adjacent nonmalignant cells. MMTV-like sequences were also located in the epithelial cells of male gynecomastia samples. Using reverse transcriptase in situ PCR, RNA transcripts from the env gene were also detected within cancerous epithelial cells of 78% of DNA-positive tumors, 80% of gynecomastia samples, and 0% of normal tissues screened. This suggests the virus may be replicating in these cells. The epidemiologic and histopathological data are consistent with the association of an MMTV-like virus with breast cancers in men and women. The association with gynecomastia, a benign, possibly premalignant condition suggests hormonal influences, rather than cancer per se, may be the dominant factor in determining viral presence and replication.

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