Patients with Hepatitis C More Likely to Develop Certain Head and Neck Cancers

Oropharyngeal and nonoropharyngeal cancers more prevalent in patients diagnosed with HCV.

Researchers find that patients with hepatitis C virus (HCV) are more likely to be diagnosed with not only liver cancers and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but also certain head and neck cancers.

A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found a large amount of patients with HCV are also diagnosed with certain head and neck cancers, which lead to this research.

"To our surprise, we saw a number of head and neck cancer patients who tested positive for the hepatitis C virus,” said lead researcher Harrys A. Torres, MD. “With this observation we began to wonder if there was an undiscovered correlation between the two. Our findings tell us that the association between hepatitis C and oropharyngeal and nonoropharyngeal cancers is as high as its link to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma."

Researchers conducted a retrospective, case-controlled study that included 34,545 patients tested for HCV from 2004 to 2014.

Also included were 164 patients with oropharyngeal cancer and 245 with nonoropharyngeal cancer.

The control group was composed of 694 patients diagnosed with smoking-related cancers such as lung, esophageal, and bladder cancer.

Researchers found that 14% of patients with oropharyngeal cancer and 6.5% of patients in the control group tested positive for HCV.

Of the patients with nonoropharyngeal cancer, 20% tested positive for HCV.

The risk of HCV patients developing cancer increased 2.4 times for oral cavity cancers, 2.04 times for oropharynx cancers, and 4.96 times for larynx cancers, compared with the control group.

Patients were also tested for human papillomavirus (HPV). The results showed that HCV-positive patients with head and neck cancers were also more likely to test positive for HPV.

Future plans have been made to study other HPV-associated cancers and their possible link to HCV.

Researchers concluded the study by stating that HCV treatment and antivirals can possibly prevent liver cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma from ever forming.

"What we are trying to make all understand is that this is an infection that has consequencesand it's an infection we can cure," says Torres.