Hepatitis C infection increases the risk of developing mouth cancer

Hep cPeople who are infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) are at a greater risk of developing mouth cancer, according to a new report.

New research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute has shown evidence that patients who have HCV were more than twice as likely to develop either cancers in mouth cavity or of the oropharynx (Mahale et al, 2016).

According to a 2015 Public Health England report, there are estimated to be more than 200,000 people in the UK who suffer from chronic HCV infection. The Oral Health Foundation wants to ensure that people are aware of the risks associated with HCV infection.

The charity has called on patients who have been diagnosed with the Hepatitis C virus to be extra vigilant to changes in their mouth and to visit their doctor or dentist as soon as possible if they find anything unusual.

CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, said: ‘This research is very important and gives people an opportunity to learn about what risks they face if they have HCV infection, by understanding the increased risks they can make sure they track the associated areas of their health more closely and take action if they need to.

‘The more we learn about the relationship of other diseases to mouth cancer the more chance we can catch cases early and save lives; key to beating mouth cancer is early detection as it dramatically improves the chances of survival from 50% to 90%.

‘There are fantastic support networks, information and improved treatments which all play a role in a greater survival rates but this all depends on an early diagnosis. If HCV patients look out for the major signs and symptoms they can dramatically improve their chances of survival.

‘Patients need to be alert to unusual lumps or swellings in the head and neck area, white or red patches in the mouth, and mouth ulcers which do not heal within three weeks. If they notice any of these symptoms, then we should visit their dentist or doctor straight away.’

As well as an increased risk of mouth cancer, HCV infection is also closely linked with other oral health problems such as tooth decay and gum disease due to a reduction in saliva production (Coates et al, 2000). Saliva helps to fight bacteria in the mouth due to its antibacterial properties and without there is an increased chance of infection entering the body.

The research team also found that patients who tested positive for HCV were also more likely to test positive for the human papilloma virus (HPV) – which is predicted to overtake smoking as the leading cause of mouth cancer within the next decade.

‘Mouth cancer in the UK has increased by more than a third (39%) in the last decade alone and by more than nine-tenths (92%) since the late 1970s, we believe much of this is due to a marked increased in the prevalence of HPV,’ added Dr Carter.

‘In the UK, somebody is told they have mouth cancer every 77 minutes, that is less time than its takes to play a rugby game and it claims more lives every than road traffic accidents on Britain’s roads; we have to do something to address these shocking statistics.

‘Hepatitis C patients should ensure they are receiving specialist and constant dental care to ensure that if they do develop signs or symptoms of mouth cancer they have every fighting chance to overcome it.’

For more information on mouth cancer visit www.mouthcancer.org.


Coates EA, Brennan D, Logan RM, Goss AN, Scopacasa B, Spencer AJ, Gorkic E (2000) Hepatitis C infection and associated oral health problems Australian Dental Journal 45:(2): 108-114

Mahale P, Sturgis EM, Tweardy DJ, Ariza-Heredia EJ, Torres HA (2016) Association Between Hepatitis C Virus and Head and Neck Cancers J Natl Cancer Inst 108(8)

Public Health England (2015) Hepatitis C in the UK 2015 report

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