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UC searching for viral link to breast cancer

UC searching for viral link to breast cancer

July 24, 2013

A University of Canterbury (UC) led research team wants to find the link between breast cancer and a virus, to help reduce the number of New Zealanders who die of breast cancer each year.

UC health sciences expert Professor Ann Richardson and her colleagues want to find out more about a potential link between breast cancer and a virus known as cytomegalovirus (CMV).

``Cytomegalovirus is a virus which is found in humans worldwide, but patterns of infection differ between countries, Professor Richardson says.

``Recently, laboratory-based studies by other researchers, looking for evidence of the virus in breast cancer tissue, have also found a possible link between CMV and breast cancer. Our previous research suggested that adult exposure to CMV is linked to breast cancer.

``Our new study, building on our earlier findings, will test stored blood samples in a group of women who donated blood samples to a large serum bank in Finland, to find out whether patterns of exposure to cytomegalovirus differ for women with breast cancer compared with women who do not have breast cancer,’’ Professor Richardson says.

If an infectious cause for breast cancer can be found, it has the potential to lead to prevention of a significant proportion of breast cancer, by immunisation in early childhood.

Apart from Professor Richardson, the research team also includes Professor John Potter of UC’s Wayne Francis Cancer Epidemiology Research Group and experts from other centres including Finland. The Health Research Council of New Zealand has provided $333,000 to fund the project.

``Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer deaths in women worldwide, with over 1.4 million women newly diagnosed with breast cancer and over 450,000 women dying from breast cancer each year.

``New Zealand has among the highest rates of breast cancer in the world. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in New Zealand women, and the second most common cause of cancer death in women, with over 2700 women diagnosed with breast cancer and over 600 women dying from breast cancer each year.

``The number of women diagnosed with breast cancer will increase because of the increasing number of older people and increasing size of our population.’’

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