You may have heard of hepatitis thanks to the number of celebrities who have been honest about their diagnoses. Hepatitis occurs when your liver is inflamed. This condition can be caused by a number of factors, including exposure to the viruses that cause hepatitis, overuse of certain medications, and alcohol abuse.
Unfortunately, symptoms of hepatitis can go overlooked. Issues it can cause like fatigue, appetite changes, stomach pain, and joint pain may be only mild at first, and can mimic other conditions. All the while, liver damage is occurring silently. It’s therefore no surprise that many of the people living with hepatitis don’t know they have it.
Here’s everything you need to know about how hepatitis and liver cancer intersect, and what prevention measures you can take.
What’s the Link Between Hepatitis & Liver Cancer?
Hepatitis A, B, and C are all caused by viruses and in many cases can have a single, short duration. Hepatitis B and C, however, can both become chronic, leading to liver damage, including cirrhosis or scarring of the liver, as well as liver cancer.
Roughly 65% of liver cancers are believed to develop from having hepatitis B or C, with 50% of diagnoses resulting from infection with the hepatitis C virus in particular. Researchers aren’t yet sure whether the virus causes cancer itself, or if it only creates the conditions that allow cancer to develop. One theory is that the virus may impede the mechanisms that allow your body to repair DNA damage in cells, while other research indicates the virus destroys genes that help suppress tumors. The Hepatitis C virus also prompts a high cell turnover, which may increase the risk of DNA mutations that lead to overgrowth of defective cells.
No matter the root cause, it’s clear that having hepatitis does increase the risk of liver cancer, which is why prevention is key.
Can Hepatitis Be Prevented or Treated?
Hepatitis B is now part of the standard infant vaccine regimen, and it’s highly effective at preventing the virus. If you haven’t received this vaccine, you may be advised to do so if you’re traveling to a region where it is common. In most cases, hepatitis B lasts less than six months. When it becomes chronic, however, antiviral medications can help fight the virus and its ability to cause liver damage.
Hepatitis C, on the other hand, currently has no vaccine. There are, however, highly effective treatments available which can cure the majority of cases in just a few months after diagnosis, reducing your risk for liver cancer by 75 percent.
Everyone over the age of 18 should be screened for hepatitis C at least once. Other groups who should talk to their doctors about being tested for hepatitis C include:
- People who have injected illegal substances
- Anyone who received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992
- People who have received dialysis
- Individuals living with HIV
- People with signs of liver issues
- Pregnant women
- Children born to mothers with the condition
Screening recommendations are slightly different for people with hepatitis B. Anyone who was not vaccinated as an infant or is from an area with high rates of transmission, such as in Asia or Africa, should be screened. All pregnant women, people who have had sex with someone diagnosed with hepatitis B, and injection drug users should also be tested. If you’ve received dialysis, are on any immunosuppressive therapy, or have HIV, you’ll also want to be screened for hepatitis B.
Discovering any form of hepatitis early is important to pursuing effective treatment.
As your partner in women’s wellness, Peachtree City Obstetrics & Gynecology is committed to helping your entire body stay healthy, including your liver.