The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a very common virus. It’s most known for causing mononucleosis, also known as “mono.”
Researchers have known for decades that there is a connection between EBV and a higher risk of some types of cancer.
However, leukemia is not one of the cancer types linked to EBV, but three other types of cancer do show a link to EBV, including two types of lymphoma.
EBV is spread through saliva and other body fluids. Many people contract EBV as children and don’t experience any symptoms at all. When teenagers and adults contract EBV, it normally causes an infection known as mononucleosis, often known as “mono.”
Symptoms of mononucleosis last between 2 and 4 weeks and include:
Similar to many other viruses, EBV stays dormant inside your body once you’ve contracted it. This means that even when it’s no longer causing symptoms, it will live inside your body.
Often, the virus will remain inactive, but there is a chance it could become active again at a later time and cause another infection.
There isn’t a known link between EBV and leukemia. However, there is a link between EBV and a few other types of cancer. These include:
- Hodgkin’s disease. Hodgkin’s disease is an immune system cancer that affects the white blood cells your body makes.
- Burkitt’s lymphoma. Burkitt’s lymphoma is a fast-growing form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
- Nasopharyngeal cancer. Nasopharyngeal cancer is a cancer that develops in your neck and throat.
It’s not exactly clear why EBV increases the risk of these cancers in some people. It’s theorized that when EBV infects human B cells, it might change genetic coding enough to make it more likely for tumors to form. However, a person would need to already have a weakened immune system for this to happen, and there would also need to be the right combination of environmental factors for this to lead to any type of cancer.
Additionally, there appears to be a link between the dormant EBV virus in your throat and nasopharyngeal cancer. It’s believed that smoking — already a risk factor for nasopharyngeal cancer — can reactivate the EBV virus in your throat and along your respiratory tract.
EBV is very common. It’s unlikely that you’ll develop cancer because of EBV, even if you know you’ve had the virus. However, it’s always a good idea to be aware of symptoms that might indicate cancer so you can make a medical appointment right away if you have symptoms.
Symptoms of Hodgkin’s disease include:
- severe itching
- swollen lymph nodes
- unintentional weight loss
- night sweats
- increased sensitivity to alcohol
- pain in your lymph nodes after drinking alcohol
- coughing or trouble breathing
Symptoms of Burkitt’s lymphoma include:
- swollen lymph nodes that grow in size quickly
- unintentional weight loss
- abdominal swelling
- night sweats
- facial distortion
- intestinal blockage
- enlarged thyroid
- enlarged tonsils
Symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer include:
- double vision
- sore throat
- frequent ear infections
- a feeling of fullness in the ears
- frequent nose bleeds
- bloody saliva
- nasal congestion (stuffy nose)
- ringing in ears
- swollen lymph node in the neck causing a lump
- hearing loss
- difficulty opening your mouth
- trouble talking
Keep in mind that many of these symptoms are also associated with conditions that are not cancer. If you have these symptoms, it’s still best to make a medical appointment as soon as you can, especially for any symptoms you’ve had for more than a week or two.
Detecting cancer early can lead to more successful treatment and better outcomes, so it’s always a good idea to make an appointment for any symptoms you’re concerned about.
EBV is a very common form of the herpes virus. Most people will get EBV at some point in their lives and only experience a minor illness. When children contract EBV, they generally have no symptoms at all.
However, like many viruses, EBV stays dormant in your body once you contract it. EBV isn’t linked to a higher risk of leukemia, but it may lead to a higher risk of a few other types of cancer, including Hodgkin’s disease, Burkitt’s lymphoma, and nasopharyngeal cancer.
It’s a good idea to make a medical appointment as soon as possible if you have any symptoms that might indicate cancer.