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Antiviral drugs could cut liver cancer risk from Hepatitis C

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 28th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Hepatitis C, a virus that is common and relatively easy to catch, leaves lifelong compromised health, in particular increasing the risk of liver cancer. Danish researchers have discovered that treatment with antiviral drugs could cut in half the risk of developing that strain of cancer.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - There is close to 200 million people around the world who are infected with hepatitis C, or HCV, a viral disease that is commonly transmitted sexually or through contaminated blood transfusions.

Hepatitis C is a chronic, debilitating liver infection, which causes fatigue, muscle aches and jaundice. The disease is also a major risk factor for developing hepatocellular carcinoma, which is the most common form of liver cancer worldwide.

There is hope. Researchers now say patients who managed to keep the virus at bay with interferon drugs for six months were virtually cured, and the chances of a relapse and the development of cancer were minimal. Patients who cleared the Hepatitis C virus had an 85 percent lower risk of developing liver cancer.

To back up these findings, a group of 1174 patients who received no antiviral interferon treatment, 129 patients developed liver cancer. In a similar-sized group of patients who were treated, only 81 developed liver cancer, which was equivalent to a reduction in cancer risk of 47 percent. Both groups were monitored for between five and eight years.

Gastroenterologist at Copenhagen University Nina Kimer led the study. She says those who took the drugs, but did not have a robust response also have a lower risk of developing cancer.

"We were not the first study to show this, but our findings definitely support this hypothesis that the non-responders to treatment are also protected when they are treated," Kimer says.

Kimer says the study's findings suggest early detection and treatment of hepatitis C is very important.

"If people come into [the] hospital with stomach aches, we do not just conclude one thing. We try out many options. So the disease is diagnosed earlier," she said.

Hepatitis C usually leads to cancer by causing cirrhosis or scarring of the liver.

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