Even though liver cancer is on the rise, few people realize the direct influence the hepatitis C virus (HCV) has on liver damage and even fewer are getting tested. Death as a result of liver cancer increased by 56 percent since 2003 and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services believe that there are 3.5 million people currently infected with chronic HCV. According to the American Cancer Association, half of all liver cancer diagnoses are caused by HCV, which, if detected early, can be cured. Research indicates that of those infected with HCV, 75 percent are baby boomers. If you were born between 1945 and 1965, it’s crucial that you understand the details of the hepatitis C virus and how to get tested.
What Is HCV?
The hepatitis C virus is a viral infection spread through contaminated blood. The infection causes liver inflammation and over time, the damage may lead to liver cancer. HCV is usually cured by oral medication, but few people take advantage of this simple remedy because they have no idea they are infected. Symptoms alerting someone of hepatitis C are non-existent for decades. If symptoms do occur, they are likely as a result of severe liver damage or liver cancer. Hepatitis C begins as an infection if blood contaminated by the virus enters the bloodstream of someone who is uncontaminated. You may be more likely to contract HCV if you inject illicit drugs, get a tattoo or piercing at an establishment with unsanitary equipment, are diagnosed with HIV, received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, or spent time in prison. Currently, the baby boomer generation has the highest risk of HCV.
Why Are Baby Boomers at Risk?
Statistics show that men and women born between 1945 and 1965 are five times more likely to have HCV than other generations. Doctors believe this number is so high because infected baby boomers contracted the virus before it was recognized as a viral infection. Those that are infected may not show any symptoms for several more years which is why a screening is so important. Currently, less than 13 percent of the baby boomer generation is getting tested. Even though you may not show signs of liver damage, or don’t recall coming into contact with an unsterile needle, a screening is still encouraged. Simply contact your doctor and a schedule a one-time blood test that will indicate whether or not you have the virus. If you do not have the virus, then you have nothing to worry about! If you do have HCV, your doctor can establish a treatment plan that may save your liver and your life.
What Are The Symptoms of Liver Disease?
Over the course of many years, HCV will cause severe liver damage. This can result in liver disease or liver cancer. At this time you will also begin noticing symptoms and should not hesitate to contact a GI specialist. Symptoms of liver disease include fatigue, bruising and bleeding easily, lack of appetite, jaundice, itchy skin, urine that is dark in color, unintentional weight loss, and confusion or drowsiness.
If you are showing signs of liver damage, or want to be screened for the hepatitis C virus, make an appointment with your healthcare provider today. We encourage you to schedule a blood test if you are a baby boomer and have never been tested for HCV. Don’t wait until it’s too late.