The word "hepatitis" means "inflammation of the liver," and previous research has shown HBV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) are major causes of liver cancer. Little is known about their roles in other cancers. However, the proximity of the liver to the pancreas and the fact the pancreas and liver share common blood vessels and ducts make the pancreas a potential target for hepatitis viruses.
In this study, which began in 2000, 476 patients with early pancreatic cancer were identified. Additionally, 879 people without pancreatic cancer were matched with the patients by age, gender and race. All participants were interviewed for demographic and risk factors information. Then researchers tested the blood of all participants for the presence of HCV and HBV antibodies, which indicate past exposure to HCV and HBV.
The prevalence of past exposure to HBV was significantly higher (7.6 percent) in people with pancreatic cancer than in healthy people (3.2 percent). However, exposure to HCV was not significantly different in the two groups. In addition, the study confirmed previously reported risk associations of cigarette smoking, history of diabetes and a family history of pancreatic cancer. "If this study is validated, it will give us more information about the risk factors of pancreatic cancer and possibly even help prevent it in some cases," said lead author Manal Hassan.
People exposed to HBV may develop occult, or hidden, HBV infection. In these cases, the researchers say, there is a potential for reactivation of HBV during chemotherapy, the most common treatment for pancreatic cancer. Chemotherapy may suppress the immune system, leading to viral replication of the HBV, the researchers explained.
"If these results are validated, physicians might want to test pancreatic cancer patients for HBV before administering chemotherapy," said senior author James Abbruzzese. "Reactivation of HBV could potentially cause liver damage and even liver failure."
MEDICA.de; Source: University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center