Hepatitis C

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by infection with the hepatitis C virus. The virus causes liver inflammation, which interferes with proper liver function. Hepatitis C can eventually lead to severe, permanent liver damage and cirrhosis and may be complicated by liver cancer. Because the initial symptoms are mild, hepatitis C often goes unnoticed until years later when liver damage is discovered.

There are 6 major strains, or genotypes, of hepatitis C. Genotype 1 is the most common type in the United States. Types 1, 2 and 3 are found worldwide; type 4 is found throughout Africa, 5 is common in South Africa, and 6 is common in Asia.

Liver cancer

People who are infected with hepatitis B (HBV) or hepatitis C (HCV) virus may develop a chronic infection that can lead to cirrhosis. The damage that results increases the risk of liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma).

The risk of liver cancer is estimated to be 20 to 100 times greater for people who have chronic HBV or HCV infection than for the general population. Every year, between 1% and 4% of people who have chronic HBV- or HCV-related cirrhosis develop liver cancer.

If you have chronic HBV infection:

You may develop liver cancer even if you do not have cirrhosis. However, most people who have HBV and liver cancer also have cirrhosis.
Receiving antiviral therapy to treat chronic HBV infection may lower your risk of developing liver cancer. (Some health professionals do not agree that therapy reduces the risk.)

If you have chronic HCV infection:

Screening with ultrasound of the liver, liver function tests, and blood tests (including alpha-fetoprotein [AFP]) every 6 to 12 months is recommended by some experts for people at risk of liver cancer.
Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B

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