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Know Hepatitis, Act Now to Prevent Cancer

07 July, 2016

Do you know hepatitis? My hope is that you don’t, given that worldwide 80 percent of all primary liver cancers are caused by chronic infection with hepatitis B or C. But I also hope that you do know hepatitis, in that you know of and have received the hepatitis B vaccine to prevent infection, and ultimately to prevent liver cancer.

This year the World Health Organization marks July 28 as World Hepatitis Day with the message “Know Hepatitis – Act Now.” So what do you need to know, and how can you act upon that new knowledge?

Hepatitis: The Risks

Let’s start with the basics. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are affected by one of the five types of viral hepatitis (A, B, C, D, and E), and each year nearly 1.4 million people worldwide will die from acute or chronic liver disease, caused mostly by hepatitis B and C viruses (HBV and HCV, respectively). In the United States HBV is most commonly spread through sexual contact, but can also be transmitted by sharing needles or other drug equipment, exposure to infected blood, or from mother to baby at birth.

As the primary risk factor for liver cancer, chronic HBV infection increases a person’s risk of developing liver cancer by 100 times more than those who are uninfected with the virus. Many people with chronic HBV infection do not know they are infected, since they often do not feel or look sick. And while the rate of HBV infections has declined in the United States, the incidence rate of liver cancer has more than tripled, and the death rate has more than doubled. In Nevada liver cancer is the No. 5 cancer killer among men and No. 8 among women.

Hepatitis is Preventable

Here’s the good news: HBV infection is largely preventable and has been since the introduction of the HBV vaccine in 1981. In fact, it was the first anti-cancer vaccine available and is 95 percent effective in preventing infection and the development of chronic disease and liver cancer due to HBV.

It’s recommended that children receive their first dose of HBV vaccine at birth and complete the three-dose vaccine series by age 6 – 18 months. Older children and adolescents who did not previously receive the HBV vaccine, as well as adults with a risk factor for HBV infection, should also be vaccinated. Risk factors include exposure to blood on the job, IV drug use, living with a person who has chronic HBV infection, having sex with an infected person, and traveling to countries with moderate to high rates of HBV. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine if you are at risk and should be vaccinated.

Now that you “Know Hepatitis,” it’s time to act. Talk to your doctor or click here to learn what healthcare options are available to you throughout the state.