A very important medical breakthrough has been made this week as researchers have come to the conclusion that bovine leukemia virus (BLV) and the human breast cancer are related. Yes, BLV and breast cancer have something in common and that is not something that any specialist expected to find. So how is a bovine virus connected to one of the most vicious human diseases?
Let us start with the beginning and explain the bovine leukemia virus. The virus has the capability of infecting blood cells and mammary tissue of beef and dairy cattle. The virus can actually be transmitted very easily in between cattle via infected milk and blood, but what is interesting about it is that it has a very low infection ratio: approximately 5% of the cattle get infected and die because of the virus.
Now analysis from human breast tissue indicated that there is a great possibility of BLV being present in breast cancer tissue. The results were drawn based off 239 women, thus specialists are very confident in the results and the importance it has. The data was then analyzed statistically and the breast cancer ratio was 3.1 times more prominent in women with BLV than in those in which BLV was not detected.
Gertrude Buehring, a professor at the University of California noted the importance of the discovery by saying that “this odds ratio is higher than any of the frequently publicised risk factors for breast cancer, such as obesity, alcohol consumption and use of post-menopausal hormones”.
To simplify things as much as possible, we can say that 59% of all detected breast cancer samples proved to have been exposed to BLV. If you want to see how great a difference that makes, note that only 29% of women who did not have breast cancer also showed BLV exposure.
But Buehring was not taken away by the discoverer’s enthusiasm and explained the result for what it really was: just a connection. She mentioned that the discovery does not indicated that BLV causes cancer, but that it is, for the time being, suspected of playing a major part cancer development.
Buehring is confident, however, and acknowledges that this was a very “important first step” that medicine had to make. There is need for further investigation in order to actually confirm if BLV causes breast cancer or not. Also, she stated that this study did not ask how people women got infected, so that is also something that needs looking into.
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