13 February 2012
A new theory is emerging that bovine (cow) viruses could be driving the global surge in colorectal (bowel) cancer (CRC).
These viruses may survive mild cooking and then exert a silent but otherwise cancerous effect on the human gut, researchers say.
German virologist Harald zur Hausen, who received a Nobel Prize in 2008 for discovering the link between human papilloma virus (HPV) and cervical cancer, has reviewed the available evidence.
The geographic distribution of colorectal cancer seems to correspond to regions with a high rate of beef consumption. Professor Hausen points to the overlap between countries with rising beef consumption and incidence of colorectal cancer – particularly Japan and Korea, where “undercooked” beef dishes are now popular and colorectal cancer rates have doubled since 1975.
Countries with rising consumption of well-cooked beef, such as Saudi Arabia, have not seen the same gains in CRC risk, he found.
“The global epidemiological pattern of CRC incidence justifies the consideration of a specific bovine factor as an important contributor,” Professor zur Hausen writes. “Infectious agents, which upon transmission to humans, are likely to be replication-incompetent [can't replicate] but potentially carcinogenic.”
Latent bovine infections may increase CRC risk in tandem with chemical carcinogens produced during beef processing and cooking, he said.
Meanwhile, in a separate study, researchers claim there is now more evidence to support a controversial link between Helicobacter pylori infection and elevated risk of CRC.
German researchers tested for H. pylori antibodies, plus another marker for the infection, in more than 1700 patients with incident CRC from 2003 to 2007. They found almost half (46.1 per cent) showed signs of the infection compared to 40.1 per cent in a control group.
However, gastroenterologist Clinical Associate Professor Peter Katelaris, from the University of Sydney, described the association as “weak”.
Last Reviewed: 13 February 2012