The finding suggests that hepatitis B — already known to cause liver cancer in some patients — may also increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest types of tumor. But while the study showed an association, it did not prove cause and effect, the researchers said. More work is needed to determine whether the virus really can cause pancreatic cancer.
“We don’t want to be alarmist,” said Dr. James L. Abbruzzese, the lead author of the study and the chairman of gastrointestinal medical oncology at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Pancreatic cancer is not common, and most people have less than a 1 percent risk of ever developing it. There are about 38,000 new cases a year in this country, but the death rate is high, and most patients die within months or a few years.
By contrast, there are 1.25 million people in the United States who have chronic hepatitis B, and hundreds of millions around the world. Globally, it is a major cause of liver cancer. A vaccine can prevent the infection and the cancer. But when an unvaccinated person develops a chronic infection, it cannot be cured, though antiviral drugs may help control it in some cases.