People infected with the hepatitis C virus may be at increased risk for a cancer called non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, according to a study in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.
Doctors have long known that the virus causes chronic hepatitis, a liver inflammation, as well as cirrhosis and liver cancer. The new analysis is one of the largest, however, to find a relationship between hepatitis C and lymphoma, according to John Niederhuber, director of the National Cancer Institute, which helped finance the study.
Doctors reviewed the records of patients in the Department of Veterans Affairs medical system, including 146,000 with hepatitis C and 572,000 who were uninfected. Nationwide, about 4.1 million Americans are infected with hepatitis C, which is commonly spread through intravenous drug use.
After more than five years of follow-up, patients with hepatitis C were 20% to 30% more likely to develop non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which develops in immune cells called lymphocytes, the findings show. The study also is financed by the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston.
Scientists also found that hepatitis C infection tripled the risk of a very rare lymphoma, called Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia, which affects 1,500 people a year, according to the study.