Infection with hepatitis C virus has long been linked to an increase in the rate of liver cancer, but new research suggests that it may also increase the risk of other types of cancer as well.
Hepatitis C is associated with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, renal, prostate and liver cancer. But the researchers also looked at other types of cancer, such as head and neck, esophagus, stomach, colon, pancreas and lung. The retrospective study looked at a group of patients in the US with our without hepatitis C and compared the incidence of cancers between the two groups. Overall, the study included 145,210 patient years in the HCV cohort, and 13,948,826 patient years were included in the non-HCV cohort.
The patients with hepatitis C were more likely to develop cancers during their lifetime – with the rate being 2.5 times higher than the group without the virus. Even when liver cancer was excluded, the rate was almost 2 times higher in the patients with HCV.
“These findings certainly point to the suggestion that hepatitis C may be associated with an increased risk of cancer. However, the findings must be interpreted with caution, as the study also showed that confounding factors such as alcohol abuse, tobacco, obesity, and diabetes modified the results,” said Lisa Nyberg from Kaiser Permanente, Southern California, who is the senior author of the study.
Laurent Castera, Vice-Secretary, European Association for the Study of the Liver, commented: “This data adds to the evidence bank linking hepatitis C with an increased risk of cancer, and highlights that there is still a long way to go in order to fully understand this complex and devastating disease.”
Hepatitis C is endemic in several states in the Middle East, with Egypt home to the largest percentage in the world at ~13%. The disease is also prevalent in Morocco, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Jordan. In many states it is driven by poor infection control in the healthcare system, but in the richer Gulf states the virus is more widespread among the immigrant worker communities.