Should you be tested for hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C, the most common blood-borne infection in the United States, is one of the viruses that can cause cancer — and the majority of people who are infected don’t know it.

The virus causes a chronic liver infection that can exist for decades without symptoms and that can lead to cirrhosis. Up to 7 percent of people with cirrhosis develop liver cancer each year, says Ajay Jain, MD, the associate director of hepatobiliary and pancreas surgery at Upstate. He spoke at the 10th annual Upstate Cancer Symposium in September.

No vaccine exists, but treatments can eliminate the virus or prevent its progression. A blood test can reveal hepatitis C antibodies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends testing for all Baby Boomers – anyone born from 1945 to 1965. Jain adds that health care workers and anyone who believes he or she may have been exposed should also be tested.

Hepatitis C has become a leading cause of liver cancer. Jain says the disease is treated most successfully with a liver transplant, but surgery or radiofrequency ablation are sometimes recommended. Chemotherapy does not work.

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