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It's been nearly 75 years since C. Ellerman and O. Bang (1908) and, subsequently, Peyton Rous, MD (JAMA 1911;56:198), discovered that certain viruses cause cancer in animals, giving rise to the idea that this must also be true for some human cancers. But despite the dedication of many scientific careers to this possibility, only a few viruses have been correlated with human cancers (Epstein-Barr virus associated with Burkitt's lymphoma and hepatitis B virus associated with hepatic cancer, for example), and whether these viruses actually cause the cancers remains unclear.
The continuing lack of evidence for the role of viruses in human cancer dampened what had once been great interest in the area for a time. Recently, however, the field has undergone a revival with the observation that genes within the chromosomes of all humans are very similar to those of certain viruses that cause cancer in other species—the so-called oncogene
Macek C. Oncogenes: new evidence on link to cancer. JAMA. 1982;247(8):1098–1103. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03320330004002
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