Ever wonder what makes tumor viruses different from other viruses?
All viruses act like hijackers, entering the cell by surreptitious means, taking over the cell like pirates, and turning the entire operation into a factory dedicated to making more viruses.
The new viruses escape the cell by blowing it up (e.g., influenza does that) or by spitting out the new viral particles in the manner of cars coming off the line in Detroit.
Tumor viruses do things differently. They make a home inside the cell. Their presence there eventually leads to benign and malignant tumors. In the case of the human papilloma virus (HPV), you can develop common warts –
or cervical carcinoma –
depending on the type of HPV that has infected you.
Here’s something INTERESTING …
your cells are on the lookout for foreign DNA and RNA – the kind of genetic material brought in as baggage by tumor viruses like HPV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV, and several other less well known tumor viruses.
You might ask, “If my cells are geared up to smoke out foreign DNA and RNA, why don’t they throw out these hijacking viruses?
The answer is, they try. But viruses have devised at least two clever ways to disarm your cellular surveillance system that is always on the lookout for foreign DNA and RNA.
One of the things that viruses like HPV do to disarm the surveillance system inside cells is to introduce an oncogene – a cancer-causing gene – as part of the baggage they bring with them when they enter a cell. These tumor virus oncogenes shut down your surveillance system. There’s need to get into the details of how, exactly, oncogenes pull off this heist. (If, however, you’re a science buff, I’ve given a reference below for a paper published in Science that explains this mechanism in detail.)
The point is THIS: tumor viruses have adapted to hostile environments such as the one inside your cells that works to keep them out. Hundreds of millions of years of trial and error have made tumor viruses very shrewd at having their way with you. They’ve learned how to get inside yours cell and disguise themselves to escape detection so they can set up shop and stay. Over time, and with the aid of carcinogens like tobacco, alcohol, and estrogen, tumor viruses slowly but surely transform your cells into malignant renegades much like themselves.
Scientists now estimate that 15-20% of all cancers around the world are caused by tumor viruses. Interest in this research is growing, but not fast enough as far as I’m concerned. My parting thought is this: IF at least 15% of all cancers are caused by TUMOR VIRUSES, then shouldn’t we be spending that portion of our cancer research dollars stalking them?
Stetson D., Dna tumor virus oncogenes antagonize the cGAS-STING DNA-sensing pathway, Science, October 30, 2015, Vol 350, Issue 6260, 568=571