Contaminated Early Polio Vaccinations Linked To Cancer Epidemic
By Robert Matthews & Adrian Humphreys

The Sunday Telegraph and National PostOntario, Canada 5-18-99

Note - The first person to go public with the SV-40 cancer link was Dr. Robert Strecker who did so over 10 years ago in his landmark expose of HIV and the AIDS epidemic. No article about SV-40 should appear without his name.

The mass vaccination campaigns of the 1950s and '60s may be causing hundreds of deaths a year because of a cancer-causing virus that contaminated the first polio vaccine, according to scientists.

Known as SV40, the virus came from dead monkeys whose kidney cells were used to culture the first Salk vaccines. Doctors estimate that the virus was injected into tens of millions during the vaccination campaigns, including several million in Canada, before being detected and screened out in 1963.

Those born between 1941 and 1961 are thought to be most at risk of having been infected. Now a new study of the effects of SV40 points to evidence that the monkey virus causes a number of human cancers. It concludes there is "compelling" evidence linking SV40 to mesothelioma, a once-rare type of lung cancer whose prevalence is rapidly increasing.

Dr. Janet Butel of the Baylor College of Medicine, Texas, and the lead author of the study, said: "I feel strongly that research is warranted to determine how common human infections by SV40 may be, and what factors might predispose individuals to SV40-related tumors."  

Her study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, also suggests the monkey virus may be passing from those given the contaminated vaccine to their children, spreading the cancer risk still further.

Blood samples analyzed by Dr. Butel and her colleagues point to the steady spread of the cancer causing virus in the human population, with 10% of those never exposed directly to the contaminated vaccine testing positive for SV40.

But several Canadian scientists are skeptical and say those immunized during the period in question should not panic. "I believe SV40 is present in the human population today and is being spread among individuals by an unknown route," said Dr. Butel.

Stephen Vas, a microbiologist at the University of Toronto, said the link between the vaccine and cancer is far from a certainty. "This study will be hotly argued. The name SV40 means it is a 'simian virus' and it is a very controversial topic whether the simian virus is a cancer-causing virus in humans."

Said Grant McFadden, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Western Ontario: "This idea has been tossed around for years but never shown. The evidence for it has been lousy."

And Gregory Dekaban, director of gene therapy and molecular virology at John P. Robarts Research Institute in London, Ont., said determining cause and effect of cancer is extremely difficult. "Just because there is a certain virus present doesn't mean it is the cause of the cancer." But scientists
in Britain said they are joining an international effort to confirm the findings. According to Gordon McVie, the director general of the Cancer Research Campaign in Britain, researchers have so far uncovered evidence linking SV40 to a number of cancers, including brain tumors and bone cancer.

"I've a feeling that the virus might be implicated in more, such as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and prostate cancer," he said.  

The study is also likely to prompt a rethink by doctors of what happened 40 years ago during the early days of polio vaccination. Until now, SV40 was regarded as harmless, with no evidence of long-term health effects emerging in follow-up studies of those vaccinated. Now it appears these studies may not have been conducted over a long enough period. New highly sensitive laboratory tests suggest the presence of SV40 in many different types of human tumor.

The most startling results center on mesothelioma, until recently linked primarily to exposure to asbestos. Studies have found that around 70% of mesothelioma cases test positive for the SV40 virus. Over the past 30 years, the number of mesothelioma cases has risen 10-fold, to about 1,000 a year, and is predicted to reach 4,000 early next century. Until now, the increase was blamed on the asbestos industry.

But the new findings are leading scientists to suspect that SV40 may account for a substantial number of mesotheliomas. Dr. Butel said: "The consistent association of SV40 with that tumor is compelling."

Dr. Bharat Jasani, a leading expert on SV40 and mesotheliomas at the University of Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff, said the new research could bring new hope to hundreds of cancer patients, as many might be treated by a vaccine that attacks SV40. "We could think about saving more than 2,000 lives a year from mesothelioma - and that is good news."

A spokesman for Britain's Department of Health said it was aware that SV40 had contaminated early polio vaccines, but insisted there is no evidence the virus caused tumors.

Health Canada officials could not be reached.  

Prof. Vas said any concern over cancer from old versions of the polio vaccine should be mitigated by how many lives were saved. "If you calculated how many lives would have been lost if the vaccine hadn't been used you would see the benefits far, far out-weighed the possible harm. There are no debate over the benefits, only the possibility it caused harm. But given the fashion of the day, wouldn't put it beyond the people to sue the government over this."