Hope is Just Around the Corner

A look into the connection between cancer and viruses

Michael Snyderman, M.D.

If a cancer can be removed surgically, a patient may be cured. However, if surgery isn’t possible, patients receive treatments based on chemotherapy and newer drugs called targeted agents. But what about those whose cancer no longer responds to or tolerates these treatments? There is now hope, and this article will discuss an approach that could go into clinical trial within a few months if there is enough interest and funding. The basis for this new approach has been in the scientific literature for 40 years, which focuses on viruses and what they can do to cancer and the immune system.

When a virus infects a cell it makes the cell immortal so that the virus inside isn’t eliminated by the body. The infected cell then has the ability to grow more rapidly than normal – exactly what we see with cancer and what happens under the radar with the immune system. If you have an infection, it makes you sick and treatment makes you better. What if a virus is part of the cause of your cancer or even part of the cause of chronic disorders such as M.S.? Shouldn’t the same caveat apply? We know that Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) can cause various types of cancer, especially cancer of the cervix. The Herpes family of virus including Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) has been associated with other types of cancer including the brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are part of the cause of a liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma. The bottom line is that published studies (see references 1-5) have shown that antiviral therapy specific to these viruses has had anticancer effect in people who have the associated cancers.

HPV, CMV and EBV are DNA viruses. RNA viruses, called retroviruses may be even more important. Have you ever heard that inflammation and cancer are linked, that inflammation may be part of the causation of seemingly unrelated disorders such as M.S., Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular disease? What if we knew what caused the inflammation and could treat it; would that improve the suffering associated with “chronic disease”? The answer is retroviruses.

In the 1970s, the father of modern vaccines, Maurice Hilleman recorded an interview that is stored in the National Library of Medicine, which is now available on YouTube (6). He states that the production of early vaccines developed from the 1930s to the 1960s were “very crude science” and that they were contaminated with 40 different viruses. As per Dr. Hilleman, “the yellow fever vaccine had the (mouse) leukemia virus.” How could this have happened? The early vaccines for yellow fever and polio were manufactured by taking the human viruses and infecting generations of mice. The purpose was to weaken the ability of the viruses to cause disease when reinjected into humans to immunize them against naturally occurring yellow fever and polio. No effort was made to eliminate mouse cancer and leukemia viruses. Also in the 1970s three different prestigious laboratories published findings that mouse leukemia viral nucleic acid was present in cancer and leukemia but not in normal tissues from the same person (7-11). These mouse viruses are the retroviruses we are discussing.

Retroviruses have the ability to infect the immune system, in particular the T-lymphocytes and monocytes. The published data is that they can infect cancer cells. If cancer cells are infected, they will proliferate more rapidly and the malignant behavior will be increased. When the T-lymphocytes and monocytes are infected, they also grow more rapidly than normal, which is detectable and common in advanced cancer. The infected immune cells are the potential source of increased inflammatory proteins (cytokines and chemokines) that are detectable in cancer patients and patients with chronic inflammatory disease such as cancer-related fatigue, M.S., fibromyalgia and the closely related chronic fatigue syndrome (12). Thus, we have the explanation for the inflammation and abnormal immunity present in these and related disorders. The paradigm-changing conclusion is that we now have the ability to lower the degree of malignancy of an infected cancer with the same drugs that are used to treat HIV (13). We have the ability to decrease the inflammation that makes people more ill with chronic inflammatory disorders using these drugs. We are ready to move forward. We first need collaboration, and if each of you that have read this article talks to your cancer center, we can turn the corner.


  • Snoeck R, Noel J-C, Muller C, De Clercq E, Bossens M: Cidofovir, a new approach for the treatment of cervix intraepithelial neoplasia grade III (CIN III). J Medical Virology 2000, 60:205-209.
  • Koonsaeng S, Verschraegen C, Freedman R, Bossens M, Kudelka A, Kavanagh J, Sittisomwong T, DeClercq E, Snoeck R: Successful treatment of recurrent vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia resistant to interferon and isotretinoin with cidofovir. Journal of Medical Virology 2001, 64:195-198.
  • Stragliotto G, Rahbar  A, Wolmer Solberg N, Lilja A, Taher C, Orrego A, Bjurman B,  Tammik C, Skarman P, Peredo I, Söderberg-Nauclér C: Effects of valganciclovir as an add-on therapy in patients with cytomegalovirus-positive glioblastoma: A randomized, double-blind, hypothesis-generating study. International J of Cancer 133, 2013: 1204–1213.
  • Yin J, Li N, Han Y, X J, Deng Y, Shi J, Guo W, Zhang H, Wang H, Cheng S, Cao G: Effect of antiviral treatment with nucleotide/nucleoside analogs on postoperative prognosis of hepatitis B virus-related hepatocellular carcinoma: a two-stage longitudinal clinical study. J Clinical Oncology 10/10/2013, V31 N29: 3647-3655.
  • Wu C-Y, Chen, Yi-Ju, Ho HJ, Hsu Y-C, Kuo KN, Wu M-S, Lin J-T: Association between nucleoside analogues and risk of hepatitis B-viru-related hepatocellular carcinoma recurrence following liver resection. JAMA 2013 308:1906-1913.
  • Between 2:30 and 3:00 minutes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H77ktqya8MU
  • Kufe D, Hehlmann R, Spiegelman S: Human sarcomas contain RNA related to the RNA of a mouse leukemia virus. Science 1971, 175:182-185.
  • Hehlmann R, Kufe D, Spiegelman S: RNA in human leukemic cells related to the RNA of a mouse leukemia virus. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 1972, 69:435-439.
  • Hehlmann R, Kufe D, Spiegelman S: Viral-related RNA in Hodgkins’ Disease and other human lymphomas. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 1972, 69:1727-1731.
  • Baxt WG: Sequences present in both human leukemic cell nuclear DNA and Rauscher Leukemia Virus. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 1974, 71:2853-2857.
  • Aulakh GS, Gallo RC: Rauscher-leukemia-virus-related sequences in human DNA: Presence in some tissues of some patients with hematopoietic neoplasias and absence in DNA from other tissues. Proc. Nati. Acad. Sci. USA 1977, 74:353-357.
  • Snyderman M, Mikovits JA: Clonal T-cells and monocytosis in cancer patients and relationship to prognosis, and incidence of autoimmunity, fatigue, and second primary malignancies. ASCO Proceedings 2013:e22038.
  • Mikovits A, Snyderman M: Anti-retroviral drugs used to treat a patient with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and cancer-related fatigue. ASCO Proceedings, 2013: e22039.

Dr.Michael Snyderman specializes in hemoatology, oncology and internal medicine. He went to medical school at Temple University where he earned his degree. He is currently affiliated with the Hematology-Oncology center at Mercy Hospital of Buffalo, NY and is on staff as Assistant Professor of Medicine at SUNY at Buffalo. His interests include viral oncology and the role of mouse retroviruses in human disease. Dr. Snyderman is himself a cancer survivor.

Michael Snyderman, MD
515 Abbott Rd, Buffalo, NY 14220
(716) 824-5588