Chronic infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) primarily harms the liver, with liver cancer being a well-known consequence in some individuals – especially those who already have cirrhosis. Yet evidence continues to mount indicating that HCV also increases the risk of other, non-liver cancers.
At the 50th International Liver Congress hosted by the European Association for the Study of the Liver, researchers reported that HCV infection increases the risk not only of liver cancer, but HCV also makes non-Hodgkin lymphoma, prostate cancer, and kidney cancer more likely to develop. This conclusion was made after tracking the health of people with and without HCV over a five-year period. The researchers determined that people with HCV had 2.5 times greater risk of any cancer (including liver cancer) than those without this infection. Even after excluding liver cancer, HCV infection still increased cancer risk two-fold, compared to people without this infection.
In another study, the risk of lymphoid neoplasms, which include both lymphoma and leukemia, was specifically examined by comparing 11,679 hepatitis C-infected individuals with 46,716 non-HCV patients who were tracked for eight years. By the end of the study period, it was clear that the incidence of these specific cancers were greater in the HCV group. After adjusting for various factors, chronic HCV infection was determined to create a 2-fold greater risk for lymphoid neoplasms.
In the past, the cancer risks uncovered in these studies would have called for patients and their health care providers to be vigilant in early diagnosis of cancer in HCV patients. Today, we can have a different message: yes, HCV increases cancer risk, but this is all the more reason to get treated early. The HCV treatments now available offer very high cure rates, which will in turn lower these cancer risks in the long run for everyone.
Stephen C. Vogt, Pharm.D.
President and CEO
BioPlus Specialty Pharmacy
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Su TH, Liu CJ, Tseng TC, et al. Hepatitis C virus infection increases the risk of lymphoid-neoplasms: A population-based cohort study. Hepatology 2015 doi:10.1002/hep.28387
Nyberg AH, et al. Cancer rates in patients with chronic hepatitis C in a large U.S. health maintenance organization. EASL 2015;Abstract 0058.