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Hidden Hepatitis B Infection Still Promotes Cancer

14 February, 2013

ISLAMABAD: Infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) promotes liver cancer even when there is no evidence of the virus in the blood, findings from a new study suggest.

Unlike the usual situation with HBV infection when the virus can be detected in blood samples, hidden or "occult" infection occurs when HBV is only detectable in liver tissues. Previous studies have linked the usual HBV infection with liver cancer, but it was unclear if the same held true with occult infection.

To investigate, Dr. Teresa Pollicino, from the University of Messina in Italy, and colleagues tested for HBV in liver tissue obtained from 107 patients with liver cancer and 192 patients with other liver diseases. None of the patients had any evidence of HBV in their blood. The researchers' findings are reported in the medical journal Gastroenterology.

Liver HBV was detected in 64 percent of liver cancer patients compared with just 33 percent of patients with other diseases. Moreover, the apparent link between liver HBV and cancer held true after accounting for age, sex, and co-infection with hepatitis C virus.

"Our study definitively shows that HBV also maintains its (cancer-promoting) role in the case of occult infection," the researchers state. Therefore, patients with worsening liver disease but no evidence of HBV in their blood should probably be tested for liver HBV to assess their risk of cancer.

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