Can Mesothelioma be Caused by Viruses?


Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen, and heart. It is caused by exposure to asbestos, a fibrous mineral commonly used in construction materials, automotive products, and other industrial applications. However, recent research has suggested that mesothelioma may also be caused by viruses. In this article, we will explore the evidence behind this hypothesis and its potential implications for mesothelioma treatment and prevention.

The Link between Viruses and Cancer

Before we delve into the connection between viruses and mesothelioma, it is important to understand how viruses can cause cancer in general. Viruses are infectious agents that invade and replicate within host cells, leading to a range of diseases. Some viruses, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B and C viruses (HBV and HCV), are known to cause specific types of cancer, such as cervical cancer and liver cancer, respectively.

But how do viruses cause cancer? There are several mechanisms by which this can occur. First, some viruses can directly insert their genetic material into the host cell's DNA, disrupting normal cell functions and leading to uncontrolled growth and division. Second, viruses can trigger chronic inflammation, which can damage cells and lead to abnormal growth. Third, viruses can suppress the immune system, allowing cancerous cells to evade detection and destruction by the body's defenses.

The Evidence for Viral Involvement in Mesothelioma

While asbestos exposure is the primary cause of mesothelioma, some researchers have suggested that viruses may also play a role. Here are some of the key findings that have fueled this hypothesis:

SV40 Virus

In the 1950s and 1960s, millions of people around the world received polio vaccines that were contaminated with simian virus 40 (SV40), a virus that can infect humans and cause cancer in animals. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1994 found that mesothelioma patients were more likely to have been exposed to SV40-contaminated polio vaccines than healthy individuals. While this study has been criticized for its methodology and sample size, subsequent research has suggested that SV40 may indeed play a role in mesothelioma development.

HMGB1 Protein

High mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) is a protein that plays a role in regulating cell growth and death. In 2008, researchers at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center found that HMGB1 was present at high levels in mesothelioma tumors and that it could be induced by certain viruses, including SV40 and herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1). This suggests that viral infection may stimulate mesothelioma cell growth and contribute to tumor formation.

BAP1 Mutation

BRCA1-associated protein 1 (BAP1) is a tumor suppressor gene that plays a role in preventing cancerous cell growth. In 2011, researchers at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center discovered that a mutation in the BAP1 gene was present in several families with a history of mesothelioma. Further research has found that the BAP1 gene is frequently mutated in mesothelioma patients, particularly those who have not been exposed to asbestos. This suggests that viral infection may contribute to BAP1 gene mutation and mesothelioma development.

Implications for Mesothelioma Treatment and Prevention

If viruses do indeed play a role in mesothelioma development, this could have important implications for the treatment and prevention of the disease. Here are some potential avenues of research and intervention:

Viral Targeting

If specific viruses are found to be associated with mesothelioma, researchers could develop treatments that target those viruses directly. For example, antiviral drugs or vaccines could be developed to prevent or counteract viral infection in mesothelioma patients.


Immunotherapy is a treatment approach that harnesses the power of the immune system to fight cancer. If viruses are found to be involved in mesothelioma development, researchers could develop immunotherapies that target the virus-specific proteins and cells that are implicated in tumor growth.

Prevention Strategies

If viruses are found to play a role in mesothelioma development, prevention strategies could be developed to reduce viral exposure risk. For example, vaccines could be developed to prevent specific viral infections, or occupational health guidelines could be established to minimize exposure to viruses that are known to be associated with mesothelioma.


The link between viruses and mesothelioma is a complex and evolving area of research. While asbestos exposure remains the primary cause of the disease, the possibility that viruses may contribute to mesothelioma development merits further investigation. If confirmed, this could lead to new insights into the molecular mechanisms of the disease and pave the way for innovative treatments and prevention strategies.