SV40 and human cancer: A review of recent data

International Journal of Cancer. 2007 Jan 15;120(2):215-23. [Link]

Shah KV.

Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD.


An unknown proportion of formalin-inactivated poliovirus vaccine lots administered to millions of US residents between 1955 and 1963 was contaminated with small amounts of infectious simian virus 40 (SV40), a polyomavirus of the rhesus macaque. It has been reported that mesothelioma, brain tumors, osteosarcoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) contain SV40 DNA sequences and that SV40 infection introduced into humans by the vaccine probably contributed to the development of these cancers. The Immunization Safety Review Committee of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reviewed this topic in 2002. The present review of recent studies showed that the earlier results describing the recovery of SV40 DNA sequences from a large proportion of the above tumors were not reproducible and that most studies were negative. Contamination with laboratory plasmids was identified as a possible source of false positive results in some previous studies. The low-level immunoreactivity of human sera to SV40 was very likely the result of cross-reactivity with antibodies to the SV40-related human polyomaviruses BKV and JCV, rather than of authentic SV40 infection. SV40 sero-reactivity in patients with the suspect tumors was no greater than that in controls. In epidemiologic studies, the increased incidence of some of the suspect tumors in the 1970s to 1980s was not related to the risk of exposure to SV40-contaminated vaccines. In summary, the most recent evidence does not support the notion that SV40 contributed to the development of human cancers.