According to results announced by researchers at The International Liver Congress, patients with hepatitis C show higher rates of cancer than those without the disease, suggesting that the presence of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) may be increasing the risks of cancer.

A retrospective study was conducted at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, carried out with the aim of describing cancer rates in a cohort made up of HCV patients and then comparing results to individuals without the virus. In addition to liver cancer, cancer types that have so far been associated with hepatitis C include prostate and renal cancers and non-Hodkin's lymphoma.

For the study, all cancer diagnoses for patients at least 18 years old, whether or not HCV is present, were recorded between 2008 and 2012. Within that period of time, 145,210 HCV patient cases were logged, while those part of the non-HCV cohort reported 13,948,826 cases. The HCV cohort included 2,213 diagnoses of cancer (1,654 when liver cancer cases were excluded) while the non-HCV group resulted in 84,419 cancer cases (83,795 with the exclusion of liver cancer).

With all cancers considered, the HCV cohort had a cancer rate 2.5 times higher than the non-HCV set at 1,524 instances of cancer for every 100,000 cases of HCV compared to the 605 for every 100,000 patients without the infection.

"These findings certainly point to the suggestion that hepatitis C may be associated with an increased risk of cancer," said Lisa Nyberg, M.D., M.P.H. from Kaiser Permanente and senior author for the study.

However, she added that interpretations of the findings must be accompanied by a lot of caution because the study showed as well that confounding factors, like diabetes, obesity, tobacco and alcohol abuse, have an effect on the results.

Dr. Laurent Castera, vice secretary for the European Association for the Study of the Liver, said that the results of the study add to the growing body of evidence connecting hepatitis C to higher risks of cancer. They also highlight that fully understanding complex, devastating diseases still requires a lot more work than what has been previously done.

Hepatitis is a blanket term referring to an inflammation in the liver. Whether the disease is tagged A, B or C depends on the kind of virus that is causing the infection. Symptoms may be similar, but hepatitis can be transmitted through various means and can affect the liver in different ways. Only hepatitis C cannot be prevented with a vaccine because one has not been developed yet.

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