Hepatitis B Treatment May Reduce Pancreatic Cancer Risk
Possible Link between Hepatitis B Virus and Pancreatic Cancer
Researchers from the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas have reported that exposure to the hepatitis B virus may be associated with the development of pancreatic cancer. The study was recently published in the October 1, 2008 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
The causes of pancreatic cancer remain obscure. Some of the known factors that increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer include cigarette smoking, increasing age, certain dietary characteristics, obesity, diabetes, and pancreatitis. Hepatitis B and C are associated with chronic liver disease; however, because hepatitis is a systemic infection, the virus may travel through the bloodstream and be deposited in non-liver tissue. The proximity of the liver and the pancreas, as well as the shared blood vessels and ducts between the two organs, make the pancreas a potential target for the hepatitis virus.
In this study researchers compared blood samples from 476 patients with pancreatic cancer against those of 879 age-, sex-, and race-matched healthy controls. The blood samples were tested for both the hepatitis B and C viruses. Antibodies to hepatitis C were found in 1.5% of cases with pancreatic cancer and 1% of controls. Antibodies to hepatitis B were found in 7.6% of cases with pancreatic cancer and 3.2% of controls. Patients who were hepatitis B positive had a 2.5-fold increase in risk for developing pancreatic cancer. This risk was not increased in persons who were positive for both hepatitis B and C. Persons who were hepatitis B positive and hepatitis C negative had a fourfold increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Persons who were diabetic and hepatitis B positive had a sevenfold increase in risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
These researchers concluded that past exposure and possibly chronic infection with hepatitis B may be linked to the development of pancreatic cancer. This, combined with evidence from several previous studies indicating that there may be reservoirs of the hepatitis B virus in the pancreas, suggests that more research into this association is warranted. Furthermore, these researchers found that the presence of the hepatitis B antibodies create the potential for reactivation of the hepatitis B among patients when they receive chemotherapy treatment. As such, oncologists may want to check the hepatitis B status of patients before beginning chemotherapy.
Comments: Research in this field is ongoing. As researchers continue to learn more about the link between hepatitis B and pancreatic cancer, they may gain insight into the etiology of this disease. If hepatitis B is indeed a risk factor, then treatment for the virus may even decrease the risk of pancreatic cancer.
Hassan, M., Li, D., El-Deeb, A., et al. Association between hepatitis B virus and pancreatic cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2008; 26: 4557-4562.
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