Hepatitis C May Increase Risk for Head and Neck Cancer

APRIL 20, 2016
Catherine Kolonko
Patients with hepatitis C were two to five times more likely to develop some types of head and neck cancers, according to a study conducted by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
The study looked at 10 years of data on patients with new-onset primary or pharyngeal or nonoropharyngeal head or neck cancers who had been tested for the hepatitis C virus, according to an MD Anderson news release. The findings were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
In 2009, MD Anderson opened the first clinic at a comprehensive cancer center in the United States to focus on unmet needs of patients with cancer who were also infected with HCV, stated the release.
“Obviously, a hepatitis C infection could impact how patients respond to their cancer therapy,” Harrys A. Torres, MD, the clinic’s director and an associate professor in the department of infectious disease, infection control and employee health at MD Anderson, stated in the release. “We also realized that many of our hepatitis patients were excluded from clinical trials. Now that many with hepatitis C can be cured, it is important that we first address and potentially cure the virus, so that they can have access to necessary cancer therapy.”
Hepatitis C is a bloodborne virus that if left unchecked can seriously damage the liver and possibly lead to liver cancer. New antiviral drugs introduced to the market in the last few years have high cure rates and work faster with fewer side effects than traditional treatments for the virus.
While liver cancers and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma have documented associations with the HCV, according to Torres, he and researchers at his clinic were surprised to observe a number of head and neck cancer patients who tested positive for the virus, the release stated.

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