Hepatitis C Virus Linked to Non-Hodgkins

Patients infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) are six times as likely to develop non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) than individuals that are virus free, according to research presented today at the Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research meeting. HCV infected patients have a seventeen fold higher risk for developing diffuse large B-Cell lymphoma, researchers from British Columbia documented. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is the most common variety of NHL, comprising approximately 30 percent of all NHL patients.

Compared to Europe and Japan, incidence of hepatitis C viral infection is fairly low in North America, and previous studies from Canada and the United States have not shown an association between the virus and development of NHL. The British Columbia study examined HCV status in 550 NHL cases and 205 population controls. The study had the strength of numbers of patients to ascertain an association between HCV and NHL, confirming the viral-cancer link suspected in studies from other areas of the world where the virus is more prevalent.

"People who have been exposed to the virus comprise a high risk group for developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, particularly diffuse b-cell lymphoma," said John Spinelli, a cancer researcher from the British Columbia Cancer Agency, Vancouver, BC, and principal investigator.

The spread of hepatitis C in the United States has dropped significantly since the 1980s. Currently, the number of new cases per year is around 25,000. Approximately 3.8 million Americans have been infected with the virus. The most common means of infection in the past was blood transfusion, and in recent years is among drug users who share needles.

Approximately 53,000 patients were diagnosed with NHL in the United States in 2003. There were 23,000 deaths from the disease that year.

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