People living with chronic hepatitis C infections can develop liver cancer. Early diagnosis and treatment can reduce your risk.
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver. Many people that contract hepatitis C develop a long lasting, or chronic, infection.
Having chronic hepatitis C (or chronic hepatitis B) can lead to liver cancer.
In this article, we take a closer look at viral hepatitis and liver cancer, as well as other risk factors to be aware of and prevention strategies.
People with chronic hepatitis C can develop liver cancer. In fact, the CDC estimates that
Chronic hepatitis C leads to prolonged inflammation in the liver. This leads to liver scarring (fibrosis) that may become permanent (cirrhosis). Typically, people with more advanced liver scarring are at a higher risk of liver cancer.
Chronic levels of inflammation in the liver lead to a rise in reactive oxygen species that can damage your DNA. When DNA damage impacts genes involved in the regulation of cell growth and division, it can lead to cancer.
The activity of hepatitis C virus itself can also alter pathways in liver cells, such as those involved in:
- growth and division
- DNA damage repair
- cell death
When this happens, it can create an environment in which cancer is more likely to develop.
Individuals with chronic hepatitis B can also get liver cancer. In 2016
Liver cancer due to hepatitis B can happen due to many of the same factors as hepatitis C-associated liver cancer. These include the effects of:
- prolonged levels of inflammation in the liver
- virus-related alterations to pathways involved in things like cell growth, division, and death
The hepatitis B virus can also sometimes insert itself into the DNA of liver cells. This is called integration and may disrupt genes that are important for regulating cell growth and division, promoting cancer.
Integration doesn’t happen in all hepatitis B infections. However, a
The table below shows the different symptoms associated with viral hepatitis and liver cancer. As you can see, there are many similarities.
|Symptoms||Hepatitis B or C||Liver cancer|
|Nausea or vomiting||X||X|
|Joint pain and muscle aches||X|
|Unexplained weight loss||X||X|
|Feeling full shortly after eating||X|
|Easy bruising or bleeding||X|
In addition to having chronic hepatitis B or C, there are also other known risk factors for liver cancer. These include:
- being an older age
- being assigned male at birth
- having certain other health conditions, including:
- inherited conditions like hereditary hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease
- drinking alcohol in excess
- exposure to fungal toxins called aflatoxins
There’s no specific treatment for acute hepatitis B. Instead, treatment is supportive and focuses on rest, staying hydrated, and eating a healthy diet.
Antiviral drugs are available to treat chronic hepatitis B, although not everyone will need to be treated. Either way, a doctor will regularly monitor you for signs of liver disease progression.
Acute and chronic hepatitis C can be treated with
A doctor will continue to monitor you for signs of liver disease or liver cancer, even if treatment has cured your hepatitis C.
There are many things that you can do to help prevent getting hepatitis B or C. These include:
- receiving the hepatitis B vaccine
- not sharing needles or injection drug equipment
- using a condom or other barrier method during sex
- not sharing personal care items like razors, toothbrushes, or nail clippers
- making sure that your tattoo artists or body piercers use sterile equipment
How long does it take hepatitis C to cause liver cancer?
Generally speaking, hepatitis C takes a long time to cause liver cancer. A 2016 review notes that over a period of 20 to 40 years, about 1% to 5% of people with hepatitis C will develop liver cancer.
How long does it take hepatitis B to cause liver cancer?
It can take many years for hepatitis B to cause liver cancer. A
How do you get hepatitis C?
You can get hepatitis C when you have contact with the blood of a person with the virus. This
Other less common routes of transmission are:
- having a needlestick injury
- being born to a birthing parent with hepatitis C
- having sex with someone with hepatitis C without a barrier method
- receiving a tattoo or piercing with nonsterile equipment
How do you get hepatitis B?
You get hepatitis B from contact with blood or other bodily fluids of someone with hepatitis B. The
- having sex with someone with hepatitis B without a barrier method
- sharing injection drug equipment
- being born to a birthing parent with hepatitis B
Less common routes of transmission include having a needlestick injury or sharing personal items on which blood or other bodily fluids may be present.
Is your risk of liver cancer still increased if you’re being treated for hepatitis B or C?
Yes. If hepatitis B or C has already caused severe liver damage when you receive treatment, you may still be at a
Do hepatitis B or C increase your risk of other types of cancer?
Chronic hepatitis C and B can eventually lead to liver cancer. In fact, most instances of liver cancer in the United States are associated with viral hepatitis.
Liver cancer due to viral hepatitis can be prevented by taking steps to reduce your risk of contracting the hepatitis B or C viruses. Examples include getting your hepatitis B vaccine and not sharing needles or injection drug equipment.
If you do contract viral hepatitis, early diagnosis and treatment can reduce your risk of developing liver cancer. Be sure to see a doctor if you develop symptoms like yellowing of the skin, fever, and abdominal pain.