Hepatitis C elevates risk of head and neck cancers


Individuals infected with Hepatitis C virus (HCV) may be prone to certain head and neck cancers, a new study has found, pressing the need for screening and treatment for the most common blood-borne virus infection.

Hepatitis C is a serious liver infection caused by a virus. It’s the most common blood-borne infection in the United States, affecting as many as 3.5 million people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“What we are trying to make all understand is that this is an infection that has consequences — and it’s an infection we can cure,” said study leader Dr. Harrys Torres, an associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

It’s already known that people with hepatitis C have a significantly higher risk of liver cancers and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to the researchers.

“Antiviral drugs cure more than 90 percent of hepatitis C cases, and screening and treatment could prevent cancer from developing”- said Torres in a center news release.

Their study findings showed that people with hepatitis C are two to five times more likely to develop certain head and neck cancers.

The risk increased 2.4 times for oral cavity cancers, 2.04 times for oropharynx cancers, and 4.96 times for larynx cancers.

He added -“The findings tell us that the association between hepatitis C and oropharyngeal and non-oropharyngeal cancers is as high as its link to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,”

For the study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the researchers identified 34,545 patients who were tested for HCV between 2004 and 2014.

The team included 409 head and neck cancer patients as case subjects (164 with oropharyngeal cancer and 245 with non-oropharyngeal cancer).

Also paramount to the research, said Torres, was to control smoking, a major risk factor for head and neck cancers. Therefore, they identified 694 control subjects, all with a diagnosis of smoking-related cancers, 378 with lung cancer, 168 with esophageal cancer, and 148 with bladder cancer.

The study revealed that 14 percent of patients with oropharyngeal cancers tested positive for HCV antibodies, compared to just 6.5 percent in the control group. In those with non-oropharyngeal cancer, 20 percent tested positive for HCV antibodies.