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Liver cancer is on the rise, but this test could help prevent it

April 12, 2018—The number of liver cancer cases has been steadily climbing in this country. When you look at the relevant numbers, it's no surprise:

  • Almost half of all liver cancers are caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV).
  • About 1 in 30 baby boomers—people born between 1946 and 1964—have chronic HCV infections.
  • Although all baby boomers are urged to get themselves tested for HCV, less than 13 percent have done so, even though successful treatments can eliminate the virus from the body.

That's according to new research published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

If you're in this age group, you might wonder why you should be tested for HCV. You feel fine, without any symptoms of illness.

But that's how HCV rolls. People can live with it for many years—decades, even—with no symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 75 percent of people living with HCV don't know they're infected.

HCV usually is spread when blood from an infected person enters the body of another person. That can happen when people share drug injection equipment. But it can happen in multiple other ways too. And the reason it is so prevalent among baby boomers is not yet completely understood.

The nation's blood supply wasn't being widely screened for HCV until 1992. Before then, HCV was spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. Also, people with clotting disorders who used blood products before 1987 could have been exposed to HCV. People can also be infected through unsterile body piercings and tattooing.

Eventually HCV does produce symptoms, but that's often late in the disease. These symptoms can include:

  • Fever.
  • Fatigue.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Dark urine.
  • Gray-colored stools.
  • Joint pain.
  • Jaundice.

Over time, chronic HCV can cause serious liver problems, including liver cancer.

The good news is that HCV can often be successfully treated. That's why screening is so important.

If you're a baby boomer—or you have reason to suspect you might be infected with HCV—talk with your doctor about getting screened.

Learn more about HCV, including how to prevent infection.

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