How Virus Raises Cancer Risk
Easily transmitted through bodily fluids like saliva, EBV—Epstein-Barr virus—is a type of herpes virus. Infection usually does not cause symptoms, but the virus can cause complications, such as infectious mononucleosis (mono).
EBV infects immune system cells as well as epithelial cells, which line organs, blood vessels, and body cavities. In the U.S., the virus is associated with about 200,000 cases of cancer—from Hodgkin's disease and lymphoma to stomach and head and neck cancer—each year. Recent studies conducted throughout the world have noted a relationship between EBV infection and breast cancer.
Since breast cancer can develop many years after infection, it has been difficult to establish the exact role—if any—the Epstein-Barr virus plays. Researchers discovered that EBV binds to receptors in breast tissue and changes the way the normal cells behave, causing them to divide like stem cells. This process contributes to the development of breast cancer.
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