A new study has found that woman have more chances of developing breast cancer if the leukemia virus is present in the cattle that they eat. In fact the risk posed by infected cattle is higher than those posed by factors such as alcohol consumption, obesity, and postmenopausal hormone use.
A team of researchers from the University of California-Berkeley came to this conclusion after collecting samples from 239 women, some with breast cancer and some without, and looking at how bovine leukemia affected each of them.
Overall, the research team found the presence of bovine leukemia in 59 percent (59%) of samples collected from women with breast cancer, and in 29 percent (29%) of samples collected from women without breast cancer.
What’s even more remarkable is that until recently the scientific community didn’t even know if this virus can be found in human beings.
It was only last year that Gertrude Buehring, professor of virology from the Division of Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, led a team which found proof that bovine leukemia can be transmitted to human individuals.
Professor Buehring then took the next logical step and mobilized her team to investigate the effects that this virus has on women with breast cancer.
Humans can get bovine leukemia by consuming cattle and dairy products from infected cows. The oldest study to investigate the presence of bovine leukemia in fast moving consumer goods was conducted back in 1996, and concluded that 89 percent (89%) of American dairy operations had the virus.
The most recent study to investigate the presence of bovine leukemia in fast moving consumer goods was conducted in 2007, looked at more than 82 percent (82%) of all US dairy herds from 17 of the major dairy-producing states across the nation, and concluded that almost 84 percent (84%) of American dairy operations had the virus.
It’s worth mentioning that only 7.5 percent (7.5%) of these infected dairy operations had confirmed the presence of bovine leukemia.
Professor Buehring gave a statement saying that “The tests we have now are more sensitive, but it was still hard to overturn the established dogma that BLV (bovine leukemia virus) was not transmissible to humans”.
She went on to add that “As a result, there has been little incentive for the cattle industry to set up procedures to contain the spread of the virus”.
She also explained that by simply finding bovine leukemia is so many women with breast cancer, the study has shown that this is the leading risk factor for the disease. It’s found in a higher percentage of patients than any other risk factor – alcohol consumption, obesity, and postmenopausal hormone use.
While Professor Buehring and her team could not offer definitive proof of how bovine leukemia infects breast tissue, a likely explanation is that is that it happens due to uncooked or poorly cooked meat, unpasteurized milk, or even human to human transmission.
The next step for the research team is to investigate whether the virus can be found in breast tissue before the cancers start to form, or only afterwards. Professor Buehring insists that researchers have yet to prove that bovine leukemia causes breast cancer, if that is indeed the case.
The findings were published earlier this month, in the journal PLOS ONE.
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