People with Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection are two to five times more likely to develop head and neck cancers, says a new study, stressing the need for screening and treatment for the most common blood-borne virus infection.
The risk increased 2.4 times for oral cavity cancers, 2.04 times for oropharynx cancers, and 4.96 times for larynx cancers.
‘Hepatitis C virus is long associated with liver cancer and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. But, the new study revealed the Hepatitis C association with head and neck cancers.’
"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," said Harrys A Torres, associate professor, University of Texas in the US.
Studies have shown that HCV is linked to liver cancers and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. However, there was no association with increased number of head and neck cancer.
The researchers identified 4,545 patients who were tested for HCV between 2004 and 2014. About 409 patients with head and neck cancers were included in the study as case subjects. Out of which 164 had oropharyngeal and 245 with non-oropharyngeal.
Also paramount to the research was to control for smoking, a major risk factor for head and neck cancers, said Torres. Therefore, the researchers identified 694 control subjects, all with a diagnosis of smoking-related cancers (378 with lung, 168 with esophageal and 148 with bladder).
The findings of the study revealed that 14% of patients with oropharyngeal cancers tested positive for HCV antibodies, compared to just 6.5% in the control group.
Among patients with non-oropharyngeal cancer, 20% tested positive for HCV antibodies. Screening for HCV is essential because treatment with anti-viral drugs could prevent cancer from ever developing, the authors suggested.
The study is published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.