New options in treating – and curing – almost all cases of hepatitis C infection have been cause for celebration over the past few years. Yet, this is not the time to let our guard down. Recently the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, which is a joint project from the American Cancer Society, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Cancer Institute, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, revealed that liver cancer diagnoses continue to be on the rise. In fact, mortality from liver cancer is going up faster than deaths from any other cancer.
Hepatitis C infection remains a leading cause of liver cancer. The group most at risk for hepatitis C infections, as well as liver cancer-associated deaths, continues to be Baby Boomers. Baby Boomers account for a whopping 75% of hepatitis C cases. This is why all persons born between 1945 and 1965 are urged to get screened for hepatitis C infection at least once, regardless of whether they have any risk factors (e.g., IV drug use, unprotected sex, etc.). Even Medicare is covering this screening.
Generally, Baby Boomers with hepatitis C were exposed to the virus many years (or even decades) ago. However, due to the silent nature of hepatitis C infection, up to 20 years can go by before the infection shows overt symptoms. Nevertheless, a simple blood test will definitively show whether or not an infection is present.
The alarming trend in hepatitis C-related deaths can be reversed. Screenings and then treatment for infected individuals offers very high rates of success, including a 75% risk reduction in liver cancer for those cured of hepatitis C infections. Now is the time to continue getting the message out: get screened, get treated, and save lives.
Stephen C. Vogt, Pharm.D.
President and CEO
BioPlus Specialty Pharmacy
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Ward J. Liver cancer death rate increasing faster than all other cancers; implementation of viral hepatitis action plan urgently needed. AIDS.gov March 11, 2016.