Researchers still have a lot to learn about how bladder cancer develops, though smoking is a major risk factor. New research has suggested that it may be related to BK polyomavirus (BKPyV) virus infections, which are common and infect most kids. While the infection initially causes only cold-like symptoms, it can hide away in the kidneys. It may lie dormant there and reawaken if the immune system weakens, which might happen because of old age, medical treatments, or other factors. When researchers infected human bladder cells with BK virus in the lab, they observed DNA damage that is similar to what's seen in bladder tumors.
In this study, the scientists showed that when BK virus reactivates, it can trigger enzymes called APOBECs in bladder cells, which can destroy the virus. APOBECs can cause mutations in viral DNA. However, these same antiviral enzymes can also cause do damage to the DNA in human bladder cells, which can then influence the development of bladder cancer. Interestingly, carcinogens don't seem to cause this same type of genetic damage. The findings have been reported in Oncogene.
This study has changed "our understanding of the causes of bladder cancer by showing that BK virus infections are a risk factor for bladder cancer because they force bladder cells to use APOBECs that damage their DNA," said lead study author Dr. Simon Baker of the Department of Biology at the University of York.
Kidney transplant patients are more likely to develop bladder cancer than the general population. Bladder cancer is more common in men than women, it's the tenth most common type of cancer worldwide, and in 2018, about 550,000 new cases were identified.
By providing new insights into the development of bladder cancer, this study could help prevent new bladder cancer cases. It may be possible to develop a vaccine for BK virus that can work to prevent bladder cancer in the same way that the HPV vaccine prevents cervial cancer, the researchers noted. They are hoping that research attention will turn to the development of a BK vaccine.