Hepatitis C and liver disease—should you be concerned?

July 24, 2018 Kris Kowdley, MD

A recent report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics indicated an alarming 43 percent increase in U.S. death rates due to liver cancer from 2000 to 2016.

According to Dr. Kris Kowdley, Director of the Swedish Liver Care Network and Research Director of the Swedish Organ Care Program, the dramatic increase in death rates from liver cancer are due to a perfect storm of an aging baby boomer population with hepatitis C, the rapid rise in the prevalence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and the ongoing risk of liver cancer among patients with alcoholic liver disease. In addition almost 2 million people in the US have chronic hepatitis B infection, which is particularly common among foreign-born persons who have emigrated from regions with a high prevalence of hepatitis B, such as Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. 

This constellation of events has contributed to a rapid rise in liver cancer rates. Liver cancer remains a serious life-threatening condition and although early diagnosis can be associated with excellent outcomes, screening remains suboptimal. Early diagnosis of liver disease and linkage to care for highly effective therapies has the potential to greatly improve population health. He says, “The Pacific Northwest is highly impacted by liver disease and we hope to improve the liver health of our population via the Swedish Liver Care Network and Organ Care Research Program.”

Dr. Kowdley says it is critical that the baby boomer generation, in particular, be made aware of hepatitis C. This segment of the population suffers from hepatitis C in larger numbers compared to the rest of the population. Individuals with hepatitis C or another form of liver disease may not necessarily experience any type of symptoms or signs until they are in late stages of the disease, which is why screening those who may be at risk is so important.

The screening for hepatitis C is a standard antibody blood test which can be ordered by your primary care provider. If you don’t have a primary care provider, you can get a free referral by calling 1-800-SWEDISH (1-800-793-3474).


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