The link between pancreatic cancer and hepatitis B

November 11, 2008 by  
Filed under CANCER

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Do you have a history of hepatitis B infection?

Then you should be aware that hepatitis B infection may increase your risk of getting pancreatic cancer. This is based on the new study led by Manal M. Hassan, assistant professor at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. The study showed that patients with pancreatic cancer are twice as likely to have a past history of hepatitis B compared to those without the disease. Researchers, however, stated that more studies are needed to evaluate the relationship between the two diseases.

The researchers studied 476 patients with pancreatic cancer and 879 healthy individuals by testing their blood to determine if they have evidence of hepatitis B and C infection. Almost 8% of the patients with pancreatic cancer had history of hepatitis B. However, only 3.2% were positive to hepatitis B for those without the cancer. The results were similar even when smokers were excluded in the analysis. Diabetic individuals (who are usually prone to pancreatic cancer) with hepatitis B also had a 7-fold increase in cancer risk compared to those healthy individuals tested. Hepatitis C, on the other hand, was not found to be associated with pancreatic cancer.

According to the authors, previous studies reported that hepatitis B antigens were found in pancreatic fluids. Another study also observed that people with chronic hepatitis B infection have impaired pancreatic function. These findings suggest that hepatitis B virus may increase cancer risk by causing inflammation or DNA damage in the pancreas.

“While our findings indicate that past exposure to hepatitis B is associated with the development of pancreatic cancer, more research is needed to determine whether this relationship is one of cause and effect,” said lead author Manal M. Hassan. “If these findings can be confirmed by other studies, hepatitis B could be another risk factor for pancreatic cancer that is readily modifiable with treatment, and even preventable with a vaccine.”

 The National Cancer Institute (NCI) defines pancreatic cancer as a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells are found in the tissues of the pancreas. It is also called exocrine cancer. In 2008 alone, approximately 37,680 people in the US have been pancreatic cancer resulting in death of 34,290 individuals.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult cancer to cure because symptoms are normally observed when the disease is already at an advanced stage. Diabetes and smoking increase the risk of pancreatic cancer but people without the risk factors may also develop the disease. For more information about pancreatic cancer, you can download this online booklet from the NCI site.

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