Hepatitis C Causes More Cancers Than We Know

Medical experts have long warned the public about the health dangers of hepatitis C, which increases a patient’s risk of liver cancer. But adding to this life-threatening condition is a recent study presented at the European Association for the 50th International Liver Congress in Vienna, Austria. The researchers remarked that hepatitis C might elevate the risk of developing several other malignant diseases.

What is Hepatitis C?

Understanding Hep C is vital to preventing and combating its long-term effects.

The condition hepatitis C is an inflammation of the liver, arising from infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). In the United States, around 3.5 million people have chronic HCV. However, 70 to 80 percent of these men and women are unaware of their condition since it may not exhibit any symptoms.

What are the Signs of Hepatitis C?

As mentioned, the terrifying reality of HCV is that it barely shows signs of the infection. If hepatitis C symptoms occur, they often appear within two weeks to six months after HCV exposure.

If you develop traits related to HCV, they are generally flu-like and may include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Sore muscles and joint pain
  • Stomach pain
  • Reduced appetite
  • Queasiness
  • Itchy skin
  • Dark urine
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)

How Does Hepatitis C Spread?

In a majority of cases, hepatitis C spreads through contact with the blood of an infected person. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that most individuals contract HCV through the sharing of needles and other drug-injecting equipment.

Though less prevalent, HCV can also spread through sexual contact with an infected person and being born to a mother with hepatitis C. Sharing personal care items — including toothbrushes and razors — that have come into contact with the blood of an infected person is another potential cause.

What is the Difference Between Acute and Chronic HCV?

Short-term viral infection defines acute hepatitis, meaning people with acute HCV carry the virus for a small window of time. When an adult proceeds to have the infection after six months, they receive a chronic hepatitis diagnosis.

If a patient with acute hepatitis C goes on to develop chronic hepatitis C without experiencing any symptoms, it is common to have the infection for more than 15 years before receiving a diagnosis. After decades of hepatitis C infection, cirrhosis and liver cancer are complications that can occur.

What is the Link Between Hepatitis and Other Cancers?

To determine whether hepatitis C increased an individual’s risk of developing other cancers, Dr. Lisa Nyberg and her colleagues from Kaiser Permanente Southern California (KPSC) set out to investigate.

The researchers examined all cancer diagnoses that had ensued at KPSC among HCV and non-HCV patients aged 18 and older between the years 2008 and 2012. In comparison with patients without HCV, those with HCV are at increased risk of liver cancer and various other malignant diseases, such as non-Hodgkin lymphomas, prostate cancer, and kidney cancer.

According to an article from Medical News Today regarding the study, “The team identified 2,213 cancer diagnoses among patients with HCV during the 5-year study period. When liver cancer was excluded, 1,654 cancer diagnoses remained. Among patients without HCV, 84,419 cancer diagnoses were identified, with 83,795 cancer diagnoses remaining after the exclusion of liver cancer.”

Based on Dr. Nyberg and her colleagues’ calculated findings, patients with HCV have a 2.5 times higher chance of developing cancer — including liver cancer — than non-HCV patients. When the researchers excluded liver cancer as a possible complication of HCV, the risk of cancer was still about two times higher for men and women with HCV.

Expounding on their findings, “The results suggest that cancer rates are increased in the cohort of hepatitis C patients versus the non-hepatitis C patients, both including and excluding liver cancers. These findings certainly point to the suggestion that hepatitis C may be associated with an increased risk of cancer.”

In addition, Dr. Nyberg says taking caution is essential when interpreting these findings since there were modifications in the study’s results. The researchers considered confounding factors, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity, and diabetes — all of which impacted the study’s direct findings.

According to the researchers, their findings warrant further investigation to support the association between hepatitis C and increased cancer risks. “This data adds to the evidence bank linking hepatitis C with an increased risk of cancer,” asserts Dr. Laurent Castera, vice secretary of the European Association for the Study of the Liver, “and highlights that there is still a long way to go in order to fully understand this complex and devastating disease.”

What are the Treatments for Hepatitis C?

If you have HCV, antiviral medications can clear the virus from your body. Your physician may prescribe one medication or a combination of different drugs for you to take between a period of 12-24 weeks, sometimes longer. Ongoing blood tests and check-ups are crucial during this time to monitor and evaluate your response to treatment.

In general, antiviral medications for Hepatitis work by:

  • Eliminating the infection from the bloodstream
  • Detering the progression of liver inflammation and scarring
  • Reducing the likelihood of liver cirrhosis and cancer development

It is important to note that, unlike Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B, vaccination for Hepatitis C is not yet available. However, a 2014 report describes a study about the development of a hepatitis C vaccine that showed promise during an early clinical trial.

Are There Ways to Prevent Hepatitis C?

Stop the spread of hepatitis C with the following, claims WebMD:

  • Never share needles
  • Avoid direct exposure to blood or blood products
  • Do not share personal care items
  • Choose reputable tattoo and piercing
  • Practice safe sex

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Do not become part of the 1-5 in every 100 people with HCV who succumbed to cirrhosis or liver cancer.

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