Scientists at the Penn State College of Medicine said this week they have discovered a virus that is capable of killing all grades of breast cancer "within seven days" of first introduction in a laboratory setting.
The virus, known as adeno-associated virus type 2 (AAV2), is naturally occurring and carried by up to 80 percent of humans, but it does not cause any disease.
Researchers learned of its cancer-killing properties in 2005, after Penn State scientists observed it killing cervical cancer cells. They also found that women who carried the AAV2 virus and human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, had a lower propensity to develop cervical cancer.
When combined in a lab recently, AAV2 eradicated all the breast cancer cells "within seven days," according to researchers. Better still, it proved capable of wiping out cancer cells at multiple stages, negating the need for differing treatments used today.
"If we can determine which viral genes are being used, we may be able to introduce those genes into a [therapy]," explained Penn State research associate Samina Alam. "If we can determine which pathways the virus is triggering, we can then screen new drugs that target those pathways. Or we may simply be able to use the virus itself."
The Center for Disease Control says that breast cancer is the most common type of cancer affecting American women. Overall, it is second only to lung cancer in causing more deaths than any other form of the disease.
The American Cancer Society estimates that up to 39,520 women in the U.S. will die from cancer just this year, out of about 230,480 new cases discovered by doctors.
Image credit: Flickr user Caitlinator, for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said that breast cancer kills more women than any other form of cancer. Lung cancer, actually, takes this dubious credit. Additionally, the headline should have said "all grades of breast cancer," instead of "all types."