[MOL] Hep. C & Cancer, Important In Todays New's... [00609] Medicine On Line

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[MOL] Hep. C & Cancer, Important In Todays New's...

It might seem strange to read about hepatitis in a
newsletter from a cancer center, but some types of hepatitis
can lead to cancer, and one of those is the hepatitis-C virus
(HCV). HCV is of particular concern to doctors today because
of the large number of people estimated to be infected in the
United States and around the world. As many as four million
Americans may carry HCV, but few of those carrying the virus
even know it.  Without a blood test, there is little to
suggest to most people with HCV that they have a dangerous
virus in their bodies. Often, the first sign of infection is
liver damage, which can include liver cancer.

Despite the large number of people who may carry HCV, the
virus does not spread easily. You can't get it from shaking
hands with or kissing an infected person. One way you can get
it, though, is through a blood transfusion or an organ
transplant from an infected person. If you had a blood
transfusion, or major surgery that might have involved a
blood transfusion, before 1992, you should be checked for
HCV. Before 1992 blood used for transfusions wasn't checked
for HCV, because the virus was unknown. (Remember, those at
risk are those who received blood, not blood donors. Blood
donation, which is always done with sterile needles, poses
very little risk of any kind of infection.) There are also
other ways people can get infected with HCV, such as using
needles shared with an infected person to inject drugs, or
sexual contact with an infected person.

HCV is a slow-acting virus. It can take several decades to
do any harm or cause any symptoms. So, a diagnosis of HCV
doesn't mean a person has liver damage. If doctors find that
a patient is infected with HCV, they will check his or her
liver for any signs of damage so that it can be treated as
early as possible. HCV's attack on liver tissue causes
cirrhosis, or the scarring of liver tissue. Besides being a
dangerous condition itself, because cirrhosis prevents the
liver from working properly, it can lead to liver cancer.

Doctors will usually treat patients who have HCV with a
combination of the drugs alpha-interferon and ribavirin.
Often, these drugs can wipe out the virus. Unfortunately,
this treatment doesn't work for everyone, and researchers are
working on developing other therapies. 

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center now has a hepatitis-C
program to screen for HCV and to treat patients infected with
the virus. Our Web site has more information about this
important effort to treat a potentially dangerous virus.