Liver cirrhosis remains a concern for those infected with the hepatitis C virus.
The incidence of viral hepatitis is on the rise in India with statistics indicating that about 52 million people are affected by this disease. Of this number, 6 to 12 million are chronically infected with Hepatitis C alone. Hepatitis causes inflammation of the liver, a condition which can gradually progress to liver cancer if not diagnosed and treated on time. According to studies, about 1 to 5 in every 100 people with HCV die from liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver tissue) or liver cancer. When asked if hepatitis C can lead to liver cancer, here is what Dr M Udaya Kumar Maiya, Medical Director, Portea Medical has to say.
Can hepatitis C lead to liver cancer?
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. It can lead to both acute and chronic hepatitis, with the severity ranging from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. The virus is bloodborne with one of the most common modes of infection being exposed to small quantities of blood. Read about the standards of hepatitis C care in India.
Liver cirrhosis can take 20 or more years to develop in which time the liver’s healthy cells slowly get replaced with scar tissue. During the growth of these scars, the liver tries to self-heal by creating new cells. However, this process of creating new cells can increase the chances of liver cancer because the more the number of cells created, the greater are the chances for a mutation. This is the reason behind the cancerous tumours. There is another downside to this disease. In people who develop chronic HCV infection, the condition is often undiagnosed as there are no visible symptoms even decades after the infection.It is only much later that these symptoms develop secondary to serious liver damage eventually leading up to liver cancer. The incubation period for HCV is about 2 weeks to 6 months. When the symptoms start appearing, the person exhibits fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, grey-coloured faeces, joint pain, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes). Read about the common signs and symptoms of liver cancer.
Once the diagnosis of chronic hepatitis C infection is confirmed, a person should get assessed for the degree of liver damage (fibrosis and cirrhosis). This is done through liver biopsy or other non-invasive tests. A laboratory test can also be done to identify the genotype of the hepatitis C strain. Treatment and management of the disease is based on the degree of liver damage and virus genotype.
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