More About Liver Cancer and Hepatitis C
Doctors have known for some time that a person who has contracted hepatitis C is at increased risk for liver cancer, or hepatocellular carcinoma especially if they have recurring infections. The good news is that having hepatitis C, or hep C does not automatically cause liver cancer. As of 2016, less than 5 percent of the 3 million Americans with hep C will go on to contract liver cancer.
What really puts people with hep C at increased risk for cancer is cirrhosis, which is a scarring of the liver. This condition can take many years to develop and even then only about 20 percent of people with cirrhosis get hepatocellular carcinoma.
As the scar tissue in the liver increases over that time, the liver itself tries to compensate by creating healthy cells. But this also increases the chances of those cells becoming malignant, which means they start dividing in an uncontrolled and dangerous way. Eventually, tumors develop in the liver. About a million people die from complications of hepatocellular carcinoma each year around the world. This is a primary liver malignancy, which means that the cancer originated in the liver and did not metastasize from a distant site in the body.
About Hepatitis C
Hep C is an inflammation of the liver that is caused by a virus. Though some people can have a bout of hep C and recover from it without treatment, most people will go on to have recurrent hep C infections. Most of the time, chronic hep C can be treated with a combination of drugs that combat and eventually kill the virus. When the doctor sees that the person is free of the virus, or having a sustained virologic response chances are that the virus won’t return unless the person returns to behaviors that caused the infection in the first place.
There are six types of the hep C virus, and 50 subtypes. Some of them are more difficult to kill than others. As of 2016, most hep C viruses are either 1A or 1B. HCV genotype 1b is the most likely to put a person at risk for cancer of the liver.
Hep C itself can be a life-threatening disease. But this is because people who have the disease are sometimes asymptomatic and do not get screened for the disease. This makes studying and monitoring the disease difficult. By the time people do start showing symptoms or become truly ill from the disease, the options for treating it might be limited and complicated. It is important that hep C be treated when it is in its early stages.
People contract hep C from being transfused with contaminated blood, receiving infected donor organs during transplants, through hemodialysis and through sharing needles during illicit drug use. One way of treating either cirrhosis of the liver caused by hep C or liver malignancy is through a liver transplant, but finding a donor in time is very rare.
How to Avoid Cirrhosis
A person can avoid cirrhosis by:
- Not drinking any alcoholic beverages if they have hep C.
- Quit smoking. Smoking puts people at risk for cancer of the liver even if they don’t have hep C.
- Be careful with certain drugs. Some drugs such as naproxen can increase the risk of liver damage.