Infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV) increases a person's likelihood of contracting a highly fatal cancer of the biliary tree, the bile carrying pathway between the liver and pancreas, according to a new study.
Hashem El-Serag of Baylor College of Medicine says that HCV is known to cause chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver cancer, but the associations between the virus and other potentially-related cancers have been less clear.
With a view to better understanding the associations between HCV and these cancers, his team conducted a retrospective cohort study of more than 718,000 U.S. veterans who were treated at Veterans Affairs medical facilities between October 1, 1988 and September 30, 2004.
The researcher revealed that 146,394 of the subjects were infected with HCV, while 572,293 were not.
He said that his team matched the uninfected subjects to their infected counterparts by sex, age and type and date of visit.
After following the subjects for an average of 2.3 years to determine the incidence of these cancers, the researchers found that "risk for biliary tree cancer in the HCV-infected cohort, although low (4 per 100,000 person-years), was more than double that in the HCV-uninfected cohort."
This is the first time that any research group has formally examined the association between HCV and pancreatic cancer.
Furthermore, this is also the first large cohort study to show a significant association between HCV and this type of cancer.
The findings may lead to greater examination of rare malignancies, say the researchers.
A research article on the findings has been published in the journal Hepatology.