The hepatitis C virus (HVC) had been linked previously to increased risk of a certain liver cancer and subtypes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Now a new study that examined more than a million elderly U.S. residents has found that HCV is associated with an expanded group of cancers.
In the study “Hepatitis C virus infection and the risk of cancer among elderly US adults: A registry-based case-control study,” Jennifer Kramer, PhD, and colleagues examined the possible link between HCV and cancers in U.S. citizens 66 years and older.
Kramer is an assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. For this study, she collaborated on a National Cancer Institute (NCI) research initiative that analyzed Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER)-Medicare data.
The study, published in the latest issue of the journal Cancer, included 1,623,538 participants with first cancers identified in SEER registries (cases) and 200,000 random, cancer-free participants (controls).
“We found that HCV was more prevalent in the cases than in the controls, and that it was positively associated with multiple cancer types,” Kramer said in a press release. “This shows us that HCV is associated with an increased risk of cancers outside of hepatocellular carcinoma and supports a potential causative role of HCV in an expanded group of cancers.”
The research team found associations between HCV and cancers of the bile ducts, pancreas, anus, non-melanoma non-epithelial skin cancers, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and myelodysplastic syndrome.
The study was designed and funded by the NCI and led by Parag Mahale, PhD, who conducted the research as part of his doctoral dissertation at the University of Texas, Houston.
“Some of the associations with HCV that we observed may not reflect a causal relationship, but HCV is known to be an important cause of liver cancer. It is also plausible that the virus contributes to other cancers, such as bile duct cancer, lymphoma and perhaps myelodysplastic syndrome,” said Mahale.
Moreover, even though there was a high prevalence of HCV infection found in baby boomers, less than 50% know about their infection and very few actually receive appropriate treatment. As the baby boomer generation ages, this rate is likely to continue to rise, the authors noted.
“As this population ages, it is important that elderly individuals previously infected with HCV understand their risk for liver disease and cancer down the road,” Kramer added. “When we know which patients are at a highest risk, we can better understand how to treat and manage these patients early on, through the use of direct-acting antivirals, for example.”