How Hepatitis C Leads to Liver Cancer
If you just learned you have hepatitis C, your doctor may have told you that it's linked to liver cancer. It's natural to feel worried and have lots of questions. You can ease your fears if you get the facts and find out how some changes in your life can improve your chances of staying healthy. Here's what you need to know:
Do most people with hep C get liver cancer?
No. Over 3 million Americans have hepatitis C, but less than 5% of them will get liver cancer.
Why do some people with the disease get liver cancer?
You're at a higher risk if you also have scarring in your liver called cirrhosis. This happens to about 20% of people with long-term hepatitis C.
Why does cirrhosis sometimes lead to liver cancer?
Cirrhosis can take 20 or more years to develop. During that time, the healthy cells in your liver are slowly replaced with scar tissue.
While these scars grow, your liver tries to heal itself by creating new cells. But this process has a downside. It can raise your odds of getting liver cancer. The more cells your liver creates, the higher the chances that a change, or mutation, will take place. And that's what causes cancerous tumors.
Does everyone who gets cirrhosis develop liver cancer?
No. In people with hep C who get cirrhosis, only about 20% get liver cancer.
Is there a way for me to cut my chances of getting cirrhosis?
Yes. The best thing you can do is to stop drinking alcohol. If you have hep C and you drink, it speeds up the damage to your liver, and you can get cirrhosis quicker.
Can I lower my chances of getting liver cancer if I stop smoking?
Smoking increases the risk of liver cancer even in people who don't have hepatitis C. One study shows that current and former smokers have double the risk of liver cancer compared with people who had never smoked.
Should I avoid any medications?
Some over-the-counter painkillers, like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen, can damage your liver. So can some sleeping pills and tranquilizers. Ask your doctor about whether you should avoid these drugs.