Dr. Wallace Prescott Rowe, 57, an internationally known virologist and cancer researcher who was chief of the viral diseases laboratory at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, died of cancer July 4 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Dr. Rowe joined the National Institutes of Health as a virologist in 1952. Much of his research there involved retroviruses, which cause leukemia, sarcoma and breast cancer in many animals. His work showed how the viruses fail to reproduce after infecting a host but can grow in the presence of another virus. Thus, two genetically transmitted viruses can interact and produce cancer.

In 1981, Dr. Rowe received the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation prize. In 1972, he received a Rockefeller Public Service Award for professional accomplishment and leadership in government. In 1960, he won the Eli Lilly award in bacteriology, given to scientists younger than 35 for outstanding work in their fields.

Dr. Rowe was a native of Baltimore and resident of Towson. He attended The College of William and Mary and graduated from the Johns Hopkins University medical school in 1948. Before joining NIH, he served in the Navy, did research in virology at the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda and was an officer in the U.S. Public Health Service.

From 1960 to 1974, he was an instructor at Howard University. From 1968 to 1970, he was vice chairman of the Frederick County Human Relations Council. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

His marriage to the former Marjorie Louise Power ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife, Dr. Paula Pitha-Rowe of Towson; two children by his first marriage, Wallace P. Jr., of Monrovia, Md., and Wendy R. Barney of Morgantown, W. Va.; two stepchildren, Eula and Ian Pitha, both of Towson; his mother, Mary Wallace Rowe of Baltimore; and a brother, George D. of Wycombe, Pa.