Could the Cervical Cancer Vaccine Gardasil also Protect against Breast Cancer?

This is the first of 6 guest posts on infectious causes of chronic disease.

by Matthew Fitzgerald

Viruses cause cancer?

Cancer researchers have for decades known that viruses can cause cancer. It is now estimated that 15% of the world's cancers are caused by infectious diseases including viruses. Some of these include: Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and cervical cancer; Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) and nasopharyngeal cancer & lymphoma; Hepatitis B and liver cancer. In fact cancer researchers use this knowledge of viruses causing cancer by utilizing EBV and SV40 and other viruses to "immortalize" cells in their labs to have better cancer models. These "immortalized" cells keep dividing and act like cancer cells so that researchers can continually propagate their experiments. It is believed these viruses interfere with oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes in the cells. These important genes act as the biological stop signs for cells to control their growth.

Can vaccines prevent cancer?

The simple answer is yes. It has been well documented that use of the Hepatitis B vaccine can significantly reduce the incidence of liver cancer. This success has lead other scientists to investigate whether new vaccines can prevent other forms of cancer. One of these other cancers is cervical cancer. Merck has introduced Gardasil that vaccinates women against 4 types of HPV types 6, 18, 16 and 11. These HPV types are believed to be responsible for 70% of all cervical cancers.

Could Gardasil protect against other cancers, such as breast cancer?

Possibly. New studies from the University of New South Wales may indicate that this may indeed be the case. In the January 2008 edition of the British Journal of Cancer a lead investigator in this study Dr. Lawson explains that in 11 of 13 studies conducted in several countries HPV DNA from types 16, 18 and others was found in breast tumors. He goes on to state that an additional 5 epidemiological studies revealed there was indeed a relationship between the age of onset of breast cancer if that person was positive for HPV. In one study, Greek women developed breast cancer 15 years earlier if they had an HPV infection in their breast tissue. Many of these researchers went on to say that HPV could be transferred to the breast during sexual activities or from the genitals to breast during routine bathing. However, they were cautious to state that this research is still in its early stages and that a direct link between HPV and breast cancer needs to be more fully researched.

Should women get the Gardasil vaccine to prevent breast cancer?

While these studies raise the interesting possibility that Gardasil, which vaccinates women for types of HPV that have been found in breast tumors, could work for preventing breast cancer, still the overwhelming reason to vaccinate young women with Gardasil is its proven prevention of cervical cancer. Perhaps the only true proof that Gardasil works against breast cancer will come when young women receiving the vaccine now show a lower incidence of breast cancer in the future. This potential protection of breast cancer maybe just another reason, if not as proven, to advocate for the use of Gardasil in young women.

Matthew Fitzgerald is an RAIII in the Free Radical and Radiation Biology program at the University of Iowa.


American Cancer Society- Infectious Agents and Cancer

National Academy of Sciences Review Of Hepatitis and Liver Cancer

Centers for Disease Control STD HPV information

Lawson JS, Glenn WK, Whitaker NJ, British Journal of Cancer (2008) 98, 510-511. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6604104 Published online 22 January 2008. Link.

Kroupis C, Markou A, Vourlidis N, Dionyssiou-Asteriou A, Lianidou ES (2006) Presence of high-risk human papillomavirus sequences in breast cancer tissues and association with histopathological characteristics. Clin Biochem 39: 727-731. Link.

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When you write about the four types of HPV, you wrote 6 twice.

4 types of HPV types 6, 18, 6 and 11.

deleted for trolling--TS

To the Comment by S: sorry for the typo one of the 6's should be type 16. Thanks.

By Matthew Fitzgerald (not verified) on 25 Feb 2008 #permalink

Interesting. Are there any in vitro models for HPV in breast tissue? Is it known if the viruses have receptors for these cells?

I am a bit skeptical of HPV as a cause of breast cancer, mainly because I am very highly skeptical of very similar reports of either moue mammary tumor virus (MMTV) or human mammary tumor virus (HMTV; which have DNA sequences greater than 98% identical to lab strains of MMTV), being detected by PCR in high percentages of human breast cancer cells.

Until the virus is cultured from the cells, and/or epidemiological studies are done, I will remain a skeptic. PCR alone, for detection of viruses (or any other bit of DNA) is just too prone to error, for my taste.

By Brian Foley (not verified) on 25 Feb 2008 #permalink

Firstly, thanks Matthew for an interesting post. Second, Tara, although myself and the vast majority here know that cooler (and Fleming for that matter) are trolls I have to disagree with you censoring them. I realise that these posts are to enable your students to further discuss aspects of their courses and don't deserve derailing by - insert choice expletive here - like cooler. Unfortunately censoring trolls just cements their argument that we are all part of the Big Pharma/CIA/Illuminata etc. conspiracy trying to silence them.

Anyway, just my opinion and keep up the good work. Apologies if this ends up feeding the trolls.

If cooler et al post an on-topic comment that's not just an additional advertisement for his mycoplasma rantings, I'll happily leave it stand. The one I removed was simply more of the same he's posted again and again and again. I let him litter the other threads with his garbage, but I won't let him do it to these.

A Commenter above ventured the hypothesis that these posts are intended to help Tara's students discuss aspects of their courses. I don't know if being a regular reader puts me in that category, but I must say that I do not find this post particularly helpful.

1. Under the headline "viruses cause cancer?" [in humans] Matthew Fitgerald states:

"Cancer researchers have for decades known that viruses can cause cancer".

Expectant of finding detailed scientific proof that viruses really do cause cancer in humans, I eagerly followed the link. But, alas, I found no such proof. Not even an attempt. Thus I was left with Fitzgerald's observation that researchers use viruses to immortalize cell lines. Is this the proof that viruses cause cancer in vivo?

2. Under the headline "Can vaccines prevent cancer?" Fitzgerald answers in the affirmative:

"The simple answer is yes. It has been well documented that use of the Hepatitis B vaccine can significantly reduce the incidence of liver cancer."

A delightfully simple answer! Excitedly I followed the link, to have a look at that documentation. But much to my dismay I found only vague references to a claim that the vaccine reduces Hep. B incidence, which in turn has led to expectations this would translate into a corresponding reduction in liver cancer. Remarkably we are told that this (anticipated) success was what led researchers to develop vaccines for other cancers.

A desperate search of the link Fitgerald provides to the scientific rationale behind the belief that HPV is responsible for 70% of all cervical cancers was even less rewarding. Hence one can only conclude that anticipation based on expectation based on correlation is what constitutes "good documentation" in the world of vaccines.

3. Under the headline "Could Gardasil protect against other cancers, such as breast cancer?", Fitzgerald cites studies, that, alas, cannot be freely accessed by lay students like myself, indicating a correlation between HPV and breast cancer. This correlation is so far from establishing causation that even the distinguished virus believer, Bryan Foley, was compelled to lodge a protest against the PCR proof of the presence of the virus.

Under the headline "Should women get the Gardasil vaccine to prevent breast cancer?", Fitzgerald writes:

"This potential protection of breast cancer maybe just another reason, if not as proven, to advocate for the use of Gardasil in young women".

Why are young men not included in Fitzgerald's warm advocacy? Do the anticipated benefits for men not outweigh the uncertainties? Has Fitzgerald had his own advocacy shot yet? Or the concluding freudian slip is maybe no slip after all? Maybe "protection of breast cancer" as well as the "proven" prevention is what's uppermost in Fitzgerald's
mind? Howbeit, to this student it remains inexplicable how he can propose to evaluate degrees of proof where none is given.

It is equally inexplicable how Tara, a professional epidemiologist, keeps deferring to people who seem to have very little grasp of basic scientific method and/or facts. In the last vaccine post, she linked approvingly to
somebody who claimed that infants are "naked to the measles virus" and went on to throw invective at "anti-vaxers" on that basis. Are there any limits to what Tara will uncritically accept to get out of writing her own posts? Or doesn't it matter as long as the vaccine propaganda keeps flowing in the right direction?

By Acherontia Styx (not verified) on 25 Feb 2008 #permalink

What's wrong, MEC/Pope/Paramyxos--too many people point out your fallacies in the previous thread that you had to come here with yet another name change? If you'd like copies of the papers referenced, I'd be happy to email them to you, or you could probably get them at your local library.

Tara, rather than too many people pointing out anything, I'd say there was at least one too few. Thus I'm not surprised you yet again have to refer to others instead of making your own points.

Correction: Instead of making any point at all.

But why don't you go ahead and impress me by pointing out my "fallacies" in your own words this time?

By Acherontia Styx (not verified) on 25 Feb 2008 #permalink


Your calling Tara a hit-and-run artist might be slightly (and only slightly) less preposterous if you hadn't waltzed out of the recent rabies and measles threads when the going got tough...only to re-appear elsewhere under new names. Shot credibility...insulting the blog knowledge of the subject matter other than the distortions you read on vaclib...the question becomes: why would Tara still tolerate you at all, much less want to "impress" you?

By ElkMountainMan (not verified) on 26 Feb 2008 #permalink

Dr. Tara,

For what it's worth, I'm much more interested in reading intelligent discussion of your Grad Students' posts than I am in the incessant rantings and de-railings of the trolls. (This thread, to include this comment, is already off the tracks.)

I for one would be eternally grateful to have them deleted on sight at least for these six posts.


Interesting postings here Dr. S and I think you warned us. I however agreed with JanieBelle that, as a scientific blogging group, it could be much beneficial if we dissert the articles in a scientific review manner than point out insignificant mistakes. What the blogger, Matt, brought to our attention is something very important and I think students and other bloggers should concentrate on the science and how he addressed his question - Could Gardasil also protect against breast cancer? If this might be true, will this be a good break through for the scientific
community in the cancer research? I would hope to benefit from discussions like these than pointing out - you know what I mean....

The reason for my blog was to stimulate discussion on this topic and I am glad it has done so. I appreciate the comments and interest. I want to restate that research in the role ,if any, of HPV in breast cancer still needs to be more fully researched. I am glad Brian Foley weighed in and I fully agree PCR is not definitive proof, and culturing the virus from the tissue would be preferable, and hopefully this research is being conducted in labs. I am even glad Acherontia critiqued my blog. I agree immortalized cells aren't proof of in vivo cancer but inject mice with MMTV and they develop breast tumors. As far as my Hepatitis link, the article linked to referred to a New England Journal of Medicine article which clearly showed a decrease in hepatocellular cancer in Tawainese children after an extensive HEP B vaccination campaign. N Engl J Med. 1997 Jun 26;336(26):1855-9. Sorry this wasn't more clear. As far as Acherontia desperate search on my HPV link that states HPV types may be responsible for 70% of cervical cancers it was a link to the CDC HPV page it doesn't get much clearer than that, and I hope this assuages his desperation. The articles from British Journal of Cancer are probably available at your local library or university. The comment about breast cancer being "uppermost" in my mind by Acherontia was a little unwarranted but to answer him yes it is, I work in a breast cancer research lab and he can pubmed me for further evidence of my poor scientific method. Thanks again to everyone even Acherontia this is my first science blog and science is meant to be open and discussed.

By Matthew Fitzgerald (not verified) on 26 Feb 2008 #permalink


By Acherontia Styx (not verified) on 26 Feb 2008 #permalink

To investigate your last question raised in your blog - "Should women get the Gardasil vaccine to prevent breast cancer?", we have to get back one step to the question of - "Can HPV cause breast cancer?". Being a microbiologist myself, the central dogma of proving a microbe as a cause of a disease is basically defined by the Koch's postulates whcih states that:

1. The microorganism must be found in abundance in all organisms suffering from the disease, but not in healthy organisms.
2. The microorganism must be isolated from a diseased organism and grown in pure culture.
3. The cultured microorganism should cause disease when introduced into a healthy organism.
4. The microorganism must be reisolated from the inoculated, diseased experimental host and identified as being identical to the original specific causative agent.

Althought many of these potulations are modified, (see:'s_postulates), it may be helpful if you can further enrich you wonderful blog by dissecting information (there are extensive info on HPV and cancer) that can contribute to each of these postulates (modified or not). I am sure others reading your blog will contribute also.

By Viral Pharm (not verified) on 26 Feb 2008 #permalink

Matthew Fitzgerald,

I was being a little provocative, as you've no doubt guessed, when I suggested you have no grasp of scientific fact or method. I'm sure you do when need be. I must, however, point out that your links do not say what you think they say: The Hep B link states:

one 10-year study in Taiwan found that use of the hepatitis B vaccine reduced the HBsAg carrier rate in children from 10 percent to less than 1 percent. Researchers anticipate that this significant decrease will be linked to a lower incidence of liver cancer in children.

Maybe they have mis-summarized the paper, or maybe more information has come out from this study, but this is what your link states.

The CDC page is very clear and perhaps somewhere on it the 70% is stated although I couldn't find it. I don't dispute that this number is the official guesstimate, but would like to see how they arrive at it considering that correlation does not always equal causation.

I think even Duesberg, who was among the first to claim the cancer-virus theory was derailed in 1987, held that viruses occasionally cause cancer in animals. But again, there is a difference between having stuff injected into one's chest and speculating that showering or sex carries a real risk of self-innoculation in said area with a deadly pathogen.

There is a bit of controversy regarding Gardasil. It is obvious where you stand on the issue, and that is fair enough, but to advocate it across the board on every tenuous correlation seems a bit "unwarranted" to me.

By Acherontia Styx (not verified) on 26 Feb 2008 #permalink

My post I made here that got deleted, the first line of it was "does hpv satisfy Kochs postulates", so it is misleading for people to say that it was totally off topic. I then went on to provide evidence that Lo's mycoplamsas satisfies them to a higher degree and reccomended young researchers pursue this instead.

I said yesterday I would only continue using this blog to respond to attacks against me, and people saying that the post was totally off topic is untrue, so I have to respond. I also don't mind if this post gets deleted as well, for I do not want to engage in these arguments any longer, and wouldnt mind if all my posts got deleted and I want to limit my use of this blog to nil.

Nice post. But I have a question about the data indicating that HPV vaccines will prevent most cervical cancers. As far as I can tell from the literature, the length of time between HPV infection and cervical cancer is long - ten years or more. As the vaccine hasn't been around very long, do you think it is possible that all the vaccine is doing is delaying cancer development?

Can vaccines prevent cancer?

The simple answer is yes.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA HAAA !! Boy oh boy, that was some good rolling on the floor with laughter.

Ok, let's get back to reality. The simple answer is no. Unless you're simple-minded, of course, and believe everything you're told.

Beg your pardon, you said? There's not one peer reviewed study I can refer to? Of course their ain't!! Peer review is only good for inbred science. Wealth and fame are exclusively found on everybodies path and once you're off the beaten track there ain't no peers nowhere around no more.

Aww, my asci arrow died.

Anyway, you sure attract them for some reason. It's amazing that they can deny as well proven a fact as viruses causing cancer as its been demonstrated repeatedly across multiple types of viruses. Very sad.

Ooh ooh ooh! Two familiar trolls.
Cooler's been trolling everyone on ScienceBlogs lately; he was especially bad at Respectful Insolence. Jspreen trolled Shalini's blog for a while before she made it invite-only, and I think I saw him on Bronze Blog too.

By Laser Potato (not verified) on 03 Mar 2008 #permalink

Tara, I believe you've never censored me and I thank you for that. Perhaps it is legitimate to accuse my colleagues of "interference" or the blog equivalent of entering a classroom and heckling the teacher. I wonder, however, with the appearance of my good friends Dale and Elkie, what you're actual objective is.

If the "philosopher of many names" is giving you a sinking feeling of being in over your head, then it does make sense for brave Sir Elkie to come to the rescue. I even have empathy since being accused of "jumping ahead" of what one "really" knows does get under the skin.

However and but: it's not fair to accuse the philosopher of many names of "running away" from dense statistical arguments that require a huge investment of time in order to look behind the numbers. Especially since there may not even be "fixed" parameters when it comes to distinguishing "vaccine" from "wild type" strains of paramyxoviruses and which ones are causing sub-acute sclerosing pan-encephalitis, bowel disorders, SARS, etc.

So here are one troll's constructive challenges for students everywhere:

1) Find the paper that shows where HPV has it's own polymerase, like smallpox, so it can replicate in accordance with the "rules" a virus is supposed to follow;

2) Consider the plausible consequences of no polymerase in the rationale for a vaccine. If transmission of HPV requires an exchange of cells (presumably lymphocytes) during sexual intercourse, how can Guardisil prevent this?

3) Look up episomes, double minutes, DNA amplification and cancer and see if this is a better "frame" to describe if and how cells are transformed by entities like HPV.

3) Be brave, be very brave and look up the scientific work of Andrew Wakefield and the paramyxos-autism gut-brain connection.

4) Be wary of those who declare "victory" in the other threads; read them and come to your own conclusions.

5) Be double wary of naive empiricists who claim that nothing can be proven in principle.

By bigbadtroller (not verified) on 13 Mar 2008 #permalink

Bigbadtroller, who apparently thinks sockpuppetting qualifies him as "the philosopher of many names," avoids addressing the numerous scientific critiques of his errors and lies:

However and but: it's not fair to accuse the philosopher of many names of "running away" from dense statistical arguments that require a huge investment of time in order to look behind the numbers. Especially since there may not even be "fixed" parameters when it comes to distinguishing "vaccine" from "wild type" strains of paramyxoviruses and which ones are causing sub-acute sclerosing pan-encephalitis, bowel disorders, SARS, etc.

In other words, why should he invest the time and effort to understand the experimental data when he doesn't think one can really distinguish between "vaccine" and "wild type" strains of virus.

Yet he then he warns us:

5) Be double wary of naive empiricists who claim that nothing can be proven in principle.

In an uncharacteristically short post, he still manages to refute himself.

Gene has outdone himself, challenging "students everywhere" to:

Find the paper that shows where HPV has it's own polymerase, like smallpox, so it can replicate in accordance with the "rules" a virus is supposed to follow

One of the characteristics of a virus is that it cannot replicate on its own. The virus is dependent in many ways on the services of the host. The larger and/or more complicated the viral genome, the more the virus can do for itself. But none can do everything.

Many DNA viruses take advantage of the host replication machinery--DNA-dependent DNA polymerases--to replicate their genomes. That is, they do not carry about their own polymerases. Vaccinia (smallpox) is one notable exception.

Even RNA lentiviruses like HIV take advantage of the host transcription proteins--DNA-dependent RNA polymerases--to make transcripts for new genomes.

Like many DNA viruses, HPV uses several of its own transcription proteins to harness the host's DNA replication proteins. Far from a violation of the "'rules' a virus is supposed to follow," this strategy is typical for viruses, which in general espouse a minimalist philosophy on luggage.

It is sad that a person who has devoted so many years to arguing the non-existence of viruses should have gathered along the way so little knowledge of the subject.

By ElkMountainMan (not verified) on 14 Mar 2008 #permalink