Can hepatitis infection lead to cancer? Treatment and Prevention

February 12, 2024 Cancer Hub 31 Views


Can hepatitis infection lead to cancer?

Yes, chronic hepatitis infection ( B or C infections ) can increase the risk of developing liver cancer over time. These infections can lead to liver inflammation, which, if not managed properly, may progress to liver cirrhosis and eventually to liver cancer. 

Individuals with chronic hepatitis infection undergo regular screenings and follow medical advice to manage their condition and reduce the risk of complications like liver cancer.

How does hepatitis cause liver cancer?

Hepatitis infection viruses, particularly hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV), can cause liver cancer through a process that involves chronic inflammation, liver cell damage, and the development of cirrhosis.

  • Chronic Inflammation: The hepatitis viruses can lead to ongoing inflammation in the liver as the body’s immune system responds to the viral infection. This chronic inflammation damages liver cells over time.
  • Liver Cell Damage: The continuous inflammation and liver cell damage can lead to the formation of scar tissue in the liver, a condition known as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is characterized by the replacement of healthy liver tissue with scar tissue, which disrupts the normal functioning of the liver.
  • Cancer Development: Cirrhosis significantly increases the risk of liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) because the damaged liver cells are more likely to undergo abnormal changes and become cancerous. Additionally, the regenerative processes that occur in response to liver damage can also contribute to the development of cancerous cells.

Overall, the combination of chronic inflammation, liver cell damage, and cirrhosis increases the likelihood of liver cancer development in individuals with chronic hepatitis B or C infections. Early detection and proper management of hepatitis infection are essential for reducing the risk of liver cancer. ( Know more about- What is Liver Cancer ? )

Can liver cancer be treated?

Yes, liver cancer can be treated, especially if detected at an early stage. Treatment options for liver cancer depend on various factors including the stage of the cancer, the overall health of the patient, and the extent of liver damage.

Treatment options for liver cancer may include:

  • Surgery: Surgical options may include removing the tumor (resection) or, in more advanced cases, liver transplantation.
  • Ablation Therapy: This involves using heat or cold to destroy cancerous cells. Techniques include radiofrequency ablation, microwave ablation, and cryoablation.
  • Radiation Therapy: This treatment uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Techniques such as external beam radiation therapy or internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy) may be used.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy drugs can be administered orally or intravenously to kill cancer cells. Targeted therapy drugs may also be used to specifically target cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy cells. ( Know more about- What is Chemotherapy? )
  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy drugs help the body’s immune system recognize and attack cancer cells.
  • Palliative Care: In cases where the cancer is advanced and cannot be cured, palliative care focuses on relieving symptoms, improving quality of life, and providing support to the patient and their family.

The choice of treatment depends on factors such as the size and location of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread beyond the liver, the patient’s overall health, and their personal preferences. Also hepatitis infection can cause liver cancer, so treatment of underlying infection can help treat liver cancer. 

How is liver cancer diagnosed?

Liver cancer is diagnosed through a combination of medical history, physical examination, imaging tests, and laboratory tests. 

Here are some common diagnostic methods used for liver cancer:

  • Medical History and Physical Examination: The doctor will review the patient’s medical history, including risk factors such as hepatitis infection, alcohol abuse, and family history of liver cancer. A physical examination may reveal signs of liver disease, such as jaundice or an enlarged liver.
  • Blood Tests: Blood tests can help assess liver function and detect substances that may indicate liver cancer, such as alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and other tumor markers.
  • Imaging Tests: Various imaging tests may be used to visualize the liver and identify abnormalities. These may include:
    • Ultrasound: Uses sound waves to create images of the liver and surrounding organs.
    • Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: Provides detailed cross-sectional images of the liver, helping to identify tumors and evaluate their size and location.
    • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): Uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the liver, often providing additional information compared to CT scans.
    • Angiography: A procedure that involves injecting contrast dye into the blood vessels of the liver to visualize the blood supply and identify tumors.
  • Biopsy: If a suspicious mass is found on imaging tests, a biopsy may be performed to remove a small sample of tissue from the liver for examination under a microscope. This helps confirm the presence of cancer cells and determine the type and grade of the cancer.

Once liver cancer and underlying cause like hepatitis infection is diagnosed, additional tests may be done to determine the stage of the cancer and help guide treatment decisions. These may include additional imaging tests, such as positron emission tomography (PET) scans, and sometimes, further blood tests to assess liver function and overall health.

Can hepatitis be prevented?

Yes, hepatitis infection can be prevented through several measures:

  • Vaccination: Vaccination is available for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. The hepatitis infection B vaccine is especially important as it provides long-term immunity against hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. Hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for travelers to certain regions and individuals at high risk of exposure.
  • Practicing Good Hygiene: Proper handwashing with soap and water after using the bathroom, before preparing or eating food, and after changing diapers can help prevent the spread of hepatitis A and E viruses, which are transmitted through contaminated food and water.
  • Safe Sex Practices: Using condoms during sexual activity can help prevent the transmission of hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses, which can be spread through sexual contact.
  • Avoiding Sharing Needles: Avoiding the sharing of needles and other equipment for injection drug use can help prevent the transmission of hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses.
  • Blood Safety Measures: Screening blood and blood products for hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses, as well as implementing strict infection control measures in healthcare settings, help prevent the transmission of these viruses through blood transfusions and medical procedures.
  • Safe Tattooing and Piercing Practices: Ensuring that tattooing and piercing equipment is sterile and properly sanitized can help prevent the transmission of hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses.
  • Avoiding High-Risk Behaviors: Avoiding behaviors that can increase the risk of hepatitis infection, such as sharing personal hygiene items like razors or toothbrushes, can help reduce the risk of transmission. ( Know more about- What is Hepatitis B infection? )

By following these preventive measures, individuals can significantly reduce their risk of acquiring hepatitis infection and the associated complications. Early diagnosis and appropriate medical care for hepatitis infection can help prevent the progression of liver disease and reduce the risk of liver cancer and other complications.

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