Oncoviruses – Infection, Transmission & Diseases


After infection with oncoviruses , the risk of developing certain forms of cancer increases. Such cancer-causing viruses are the cause of about 10 to 20% of all cancers. Many oncoviruses are well known to science and well described.

What are oncoviruses?

Viruses are infectious particles that reproduce and are subject to the rules of the game of evolution . However, they are not real living beings in the classic sense, since they do not have their own metabolic apparatus, but are dependent on those of the host cells. In doing so, they introduce new genetic material into the genetic material of the host cell or change the genetic material of the host cell. Such processes sometimes lead to the transformation of benign cells into tumor cells.

The viruses known to cause cancer in multicellular animals and humans are oncoviruses. Depending on the type of virus, numerous different mechanisms play a role in the development of cancer. Some viruses activate cancer-causing genes that are already present in the host cell. Other viruses incorporate viral oncogenes into the host cell. There are oncoviruses among all virus groups, i.e. among both the retroviruses and the DNA viruses .

Occurrence, Distribution & Properties

Hepatitis viruses are the most relevant oncoviruses for humans. With certain courses of infection, hepatitis B viruses and hepatitis C viruses drastically increase the likelihood of developing liver cancer.

Hepatitis C and hepatitis B are transmitted through blood transfusions , sexual intercourse and directly at birth . But there are also many hepatitis infections that have arisen in an unclear way, perhaps through the smallest of skin injuries. If the infection is chronic, i.e. if the immune system does not eliminate the virus from the organism, hepatocellular carcinoma can develop.

Through biochemical detection of the antibodies and antigens , laboratory analyzes allow an exact diagnosis of hepatitis B and hepatitis C as well as the current infection status. Patients themselves, on the other hand, often do not notice an insidious chronic hepatitis. Laboratory tests to detect hepatitis antigens and hepatitis antibodies are therefore part of the routine medical check-up. Anyone who has not yet had contact with the hepatitis B virus can be vaccinated. A hepatitis B vaccination prevents infection with this virus and thus also contributes to general cancer prophylaxis.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is also responsible for a large proportion of cancers caused by viruses. The main target organ of this virus is the cervix . Papillomaviruses are the viruses that make sexual intercourse a cancer risk because of transmission between the genitals or during oral sex. Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women.

In addition to cervical cancer, HPV viruses also cause penile cancer or oral cancer in rare cases . An approved vaccine against certain HPV viruses has been available since 2006. The HPV vaccination is thus another vaccination that can be used for cancer prophylaxis.

The HTLV-1 virus is a retrovirus that sometimes causes leukemia , a blood cancer, in humans. As a retrovirus, it belongs to a similar group of viruses to the HI viruses . As with HIV, infection is permanent. However, HTLV-1 infections are rare and even more rarely lead to T-cell leukemia.

The Epstein-Barr virus is a herpesvirus . Epstein-Barr virus causes glandular fever . The viruses are mostly harmless and infect almost 100% of all people. The host cells of these viruses are the B lymphocytes in the immune system . Epstein-Barr virus is believed to play a role in a rare but very serious form of lymph node cancer, Hodgkin’s disease . However, how exactly this form of cancer develops, why most people survive an infection with the Epstein-Barr virus without consequences and why cancer only occurs in very rare cases are questions of current research.

Diseases & Ailments

Viruses are a constant threat to the organism. Many ways of infection and how cancer develops are known. But many cancer-causing mechanisms and the role that viruses play in them have not yet been described. Many viruses, such as the hepatitis virus and the herpes virus, are not extremely infectious. However, once people are infected with them, they often struggle with long-term effects from these viruses, including the development of cancer.

In the case of hepatitis viruses, many routes of infection are not entirely clear. Sexual intercourse is particularly intense physical contact, which can also lead to infection from viruses that are otherwise very difficult to transmit. Condoms reduce the risk of viral infections during sexual intercourse.

Many cancers have multiple causes. Alcohol damages the liver and quickly leads to liver destruction and liver cancer in hepatitis B patients. Tobacco smoke damages the mucous membranes in the mouth and, together with HPV viruses, can promote oral cancer. In addition to avoiding viral infections, avoiding other carcinogenic substances is therefore important for overall prophylaxis. Regular visits to the doctor lead to a good diagnostic overview of the processes in your own body.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.