Understanding the Virus

In 1936, Dr. John Bittner discovered a virus that causes breast cancer in mice. With the advent of the electron microscope in the 1940’s, this tumor virus could be seen and tracked. It was given the name mouse mammary tumor virus, MMTV. Of note, Bittner was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine on two occasions, but unfortunately, he died of heart disease in 1961, before the world could render him this honor.

Naturally, scientists wondered if a similar virus might cause breast cancer in women. Over the years, thousands of investigators have worked to answer this question. They’ve made incredible progress, though their discoveries are not as well known as they ought to be. As of today, the virus (which I now refer to as MTV because it has been found in nearly identical form in mice, rats, cats, dogs, and monkeys,) appears to be involved in a large portion of human breast cancer.

In 1995, Dr. Beatriz Pogo, who had come from the Rockefeller Institute to Mt. Sinai School of Medicine to continue her investigations of MTV, unquestionably put her finger on it in ~40% of women with breast cancer. She referred to it as the human mammary tumor virus, HMTV. The National Institutes of Health refers to it as HMTV, too. (bit.ly/HollandNIH)

It’s important to note that MTV may also play a role in causing non-Hodgkins lymphoma and lung cancer, in men and women.

And while scientists are now 85% certain that MTV plays a role in 40-94% of human breast cancer, they are not yet 100% certain that it does. They need to be. This is a question that ought to be given the highest priority: as it is, research on MTV is woefully, disgracefully underfunded.

We need to puzzle out the vexing questions surrounding the issue of the breast cancer virus. Only then can doctors provide more appropriate therapies for breast cancer (e.g., drugs that specifically target the virus); only then can scientists develop the means of preventing the disease altogether (e.g., a vaccine.)

Because the preponderance of the scientific literature emanating from academic institutions – impressive data published in peer-reviewed journals around the world – suggest that MTV is a major cause of human breast cancer and other tumors, it is imperative that we proceed forcefully, though not recklessly, to answer the question Bittner raised in 1936, Does a virus cause breast cancer in women?

If so, we need to know about it now, not in another 100 years.

You can learn more about this topic in Dr. Kathleen Ruddy’s book: The End of Breast Cancer: A virus and the Hope for a Vaccine.

Breast Cancer Prevention

Did you know that there are tactics you can take to prevent breast cancer?
Learn more about the steps you can take to decrease your risk of breast cancer.

The Causes of Breast Cancer

The causes of breast cancer are quite complex and research is still ongoing to determine the many potential reasons some women are diagnosed with breast cancer while others are not. Two major causes that seem to be consistent are older age and family history of this disease. In general, women who are past 50 years of age are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than young women. In addition, women who have had benign breast lumps are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer of the breast


As previously mentioned, the familial genetics of women are one of the strongest indicators for causing breast cancer development. The two genes that cause breast cancer when mutated are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Up to 10 percent of women who are diagnosed with this disease have a genetic mutation that has been passed on through their family.


Women who were 11 years old or younger when they had their menarche are more likely to develop breast cancer in the future. Specifically, women who have had a greater exposure to the hormone estrogen have a higher risk for this disease. Estrogen is a substance that tells breast cells to divide and may affect the out-of-control division of cancerous cells.


Women who were 11 years old or younger when they had their menarche are more likely to develop breast cancer in the future. Specifically, women who have had a greater exposure to the hormone estrogen have a higher risk for this disease. Estrogen is a substance that tells breast cells to divide and may affect the out-of-control division of cancerous cells.

“1 in 8 women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime” – American Cancer Society

Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Diagnosing breast cancer is no simple task, especially in the early stages when symptoms may not be present. However, if you felt a lump during your monthly self-exam, make sure to call your doctor and make an appointment as soon as possible. Often a lump may be a benign cyst, but it is important to determine this instead of ignoring the problem.

If you do have any signs that point to breast cancer, your doctor will ask you about your health, possible risk factors, symptoms, and family history of breast disease. The doctor will also examine your breasts for any lumps, skin texture, and size or inflammation. The lymph nodes in your armpits will be examined as well as any changes in your nipples and areolas. Your physician is also likely to do a complete physical to determine your overall health.

The Mammogram

If anything points to breast cancer, additional tests will be conducted such as biopsies, imaging tests, and laboratory work. Imaging tests may include mammography, which is a type of X-ray taken at different angles of the breast.

A diagnostic mammogram will be taking images of the specified, concerning area. The diagnostic mammogram may determine that there is nothing worrisome and that a woman does not have breast cancer. It could also show a lesion that may be benign, depending upon the results of a biopsy.


In addition to mammography, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used on the breast for women who are at high risk of developing this disease. If a mammogram found problems in the breast, the MRI can be used to study the suspicious areas in more detail.

Breast Ultrasound

A breast ultrasound, which uses sound waves, can also be used to find any abnormalities in the body. In this exam, a transducer is placed on the skin, which produces sound waves and picks up the echoes. The echoes are then shown as an image on a computer screen.

Ultrasounds do not expose you to radiation. However, the ultrasound does not replace the mammogram, which is more likely to determine the troublesome areas in the chest. In general, ultrasounds are used to differentiate between fluid-filled cysts and actual solid masses. At times, the ultrasound can show whether a tumor is benign or malignant.

The Biopsy

If your imaging tests have shown an abnormality in the breast that could be cancerous, a biopsy is taken to determine if cancer is definitely present or not. A pathologist will take a sample of the suspicious area to study and identify under a microscope.

The pathologist sends a report to your doctor or oncologist with a diagnosis for each tissue sample. There are multiple different biopsies that can be taken. The types include fine needle aspiration, core needle biopsy, surgical biopsy, and lymph node biopsy. The difference between a fine needle aspiration and a core needle biopsy is the size of the needle and how much tissue is removed.

The list above illustrates the major ways to diagnose breast cancer. If you felt a lump in your breast or observed other changes, speak with your primary care doctor as soon as possible

Breast Cancer Treatment

Once you are diagnosed with breast cancer, the treatments that are chosen to fight your breast cancer are dependent upon the stage your cancer has spread and whether it is estrogen receptor positive or estrogen receptor negative. Breast cancer starts from stage 0, which is called carcinoma in situ, a noninvasive condition where abnormal cells are found within the milk duct. Breast cancer can also be diagnosed at stage IV, where the tumors have metastasized and spread via blood vessels to the bones and organs, such as liver and lungs.

Treatment is also decided upon based on the grade of the disease, whether the tumor cells are sensitive to hormones, and your overall health. The majority of women undergo surgery to remove the cancer as well as other treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy.

Breast Cancer Surgery

There are several different types of surgeries done for breast cancer patients. The two major ones are the lumpectomy and the mastectomy. A lumpectomy is essentially removing the cancer itself. The surgeon removes the tumor itself and some surrounding tissue. A lumpectomy is used for treating women with small tumors.

A mastectomy involves removing the entire breast. All of the breast tissue is removed including the lobules, ducts, areola, nipple, and some skin. Today, mastectomies are mostly used in severe situations where a cancer has spread across a very large part of the chest. A woman who has had a mastectomy will undergo reconstruction surgery.

Along with these types of surgeries, some women undergo a sentinel node biopsy and/or an axillary lymph node dissection. A sentinel node biopsy removes a specific number of lymph nodes. Since some of these nodes receive lymph drainage from your tumor, it is important to expel the lymph nodes from your body. An axillary lymph node dissection is essentially removing additional lymph nodes from your armpits if cancer is found through the sentinel node biopsy.

Hormone Therapy

This type of therapy deals with blocking hormones that the breast cancer cells are sensitive to. These types of cancers are called estrogen receptor positive and progesterone receptor positive cancers.

Hormone therapy is often used after surgery or other treatments to keep the cancer from coming back. If a cancer has already spread, hormone therapy can be used to shrink the tumors and control the spread. Medications and targeted drugs are used as different forms of hormone therapy.

The treatments above are commonly used for many women diagnosed with this disease. While these treatments may be effective, it is often better to help women prevent the disease from affecting them in the first place. Please join the Breast Health and Healing Foundation for our mission of the Pure Cure – to discover the specific causes of breast cancer and to use that knowledge to prevent the disease.


Women who were diagnosed with this disease may also be treated with chemotherapy, which essentially uses drugs to combat the illness. If you are at high risk of having the breast cancer recur or spread to other parts of your body, your oncologist may recommend chemotherapy.

Sometimes chemotherapy is used before a surgery in order to shrink the tumor to a size that is easier to remove. Additionally, this treatment is used for women who have had their cancer metastasize. It is important to remember that chemotherapy has a handful of different side effects such as hair loss, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Rare side effects may even include nerve and kidney damage.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy works by using high-powered beams, such as X-rays, to destroy tumors and cancer cells. A large machine is used to aim the beams at specified angles to kills the cancer cells in your body. External beam radiation is often used to combat cancer in women who have already undergone a lumpectomy. Additionally, oncologists may recommend radiation therapy for women who have had the cancer spread to their lymph nodes.

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