When it comes to the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and alcohol, the answer is zero. As in: don’t drink at all, not even a little bit. It’s been long known that large amounts of alcohol could be harmful to the liver, which is why those with liver diseases are cautioned to avoid it. There is now new research clarifying whether there is any “safe” amount of alcohol.
In a study published in the Journal of Hepatology, alcohol use was tracked in 192 patients with hepatitis C-related cirrhosis. Of this patient group, 74 consumed alcohol (approximately one drink daily) while the remaining 118 abstained. During the nearly five years that these patients were tracked, 33 patients developed hepatocellular carcinoma (i.e., liver cancer), 53 patients experienced liver decompensation, and 39 patients died.
When examining the data based on alcohol drinkers versus abstainers, medical complications were higher in those drinking alcohol, even though they were only light-to-moderate drinkers. While 10.6% of non-drinkers developed liver cancer, 23.8% of the drinkers were diagnosed with liver cancer during this five-year study. It was clear that alcohol, even in this low amount of one drink per day, more than doubled the risk of liver cancer in those with hepatitis C.
“No patients who did not use alcohol and who reached viral eradication developed hepatocellular carcinoma during follow-up. The risk of hepatocellular carcinoma increased with alcohol intake or in patients without viral eradication and was highest when alcohol intake was present in the absence of viral eradication,” the authors said, and they suggested that “patients with HCV-related cirrhosis should be strongly advised against any alcohol intake.” In other words, there is no safe amount of alcohol and patients should adhere to a zero tolerance policy for alcohol.
Vandenbulcke H, Moreno C, Colle I, et al. Alcohol intake increases the risk of HCC in hepatitis C virus-related compensated cirrhosis: A prospective study. J Hepatol 2016;65(3):543-51.
Fitzpatrick C. Even light drinking spikes cancer risk in hepatitis C-related cirrhosis. MD Magazine August 29, 2016.
Stephen C. Vogt, Pharm.D.
President and CEO
BioPlus Specialty Pharmacy
What do you think?
I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments section below.