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The Naked Truth The Sexual Health Blog

Herpes: another cancer-causing virus?

September 1st, 2011 by Dr. Lisa, Medical Director

Herpes (HSV-2) linked to Prostate Cancer

Genital herpes may be linked to prostate cancer


Usually I don’t think of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) when it comes to cutting edge STD research…but in this case, I’d be wrong.

In fact, the DOD recently funded an important study that shows a link between herpes infection and prostate cancer.

The bottom line of the study? Men with a long term genital herpes infection are almost twice as likely to get prostate cancer.

Specifically, the study looked at 534 military men…half of whom had been diagnosed with prostate cancer at a median age of 48 (which is much younger than the typical age of prostate cancer diagnoses).

Because the men were in the military, blood samples existed from one year prior and eight years prior to the prostate cancer diagnosis. The researchers found that men who had herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) ⎼ which causes many genital herpes infections ⎼ in their blood from eight years ago had a higher rate of prostate cancer than those who didn’t.

The researchers didn’t find higher rates of prostate cancer among men who had HSV-2 in their blood sample from just a year ago. This suggests that having herpes for longer periods of time might be a risk factor for prostate cancer.

The researchers also looked to see if human papillomavirus (HPV) or chlamydia infections had an influenced prostate cancer…but no correlation was found.

Cancer causing viruses aren’t new
Herpes is a virus…and it’s scary to think of a virus causing cancer. But, unfortunately, that’s nothing new. For example, we know that HPV can be the cause of cervical, anal and oral cancers. And HIV is also associated with various cancers. With that it mind, it isn’t so surprising that herpes could increase the risk of prostate cancer.

What can you do about it?
For starters, be proactive about your sexual health. For most people who are sexually active, that means getting tested regularly for common STDs ⎼ including for herpes type 1 and herpes type 2.

In the Unites States, 50 million people have genital herpes caused by HSV-2…and of those, only about 10-20% are aware of their herpes status. How is that possible? Well, herpes doesn’t always show obvious signs or symptoms. So the only way to know for sure whether you have herpes or another sexually transmitted infection is to get tested.

If you have herpes, there’s a silver lining
If you get tested and it turns out that you’re positive for genital herpes, you can be proactive about monitoring your prostate. Talk to your doctor or urologist about starting regular prostate cancer screenings, which can detect the beginnings of prostate cancer when it’s still curable.

If you don’t have herpes, try to keep it that way
To help prevent getting a herpes infection or other STDs in the first place, protect yourself and others by practicing safer sex. In addition to regular screenings, use latex condoms or dental dams, limit your number of sexual partners, and don’t be afraid to talk about STD prevention with your partner(s).

Remember: for most people, herpes is nothing but a nuisance…it’s typically not life-threatening. But it’s important to know whether you have an infection, so you can get treated.

Primary source:

  • Dennis LK, Coughlin JA, McKinnon BC, et al. Sexually transmitted infections and prostate cancer among men in the U.S. military. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention. Oct;18(10):2665-71

Photo: Flickr user Stephen Dickter, CC 2.0

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