A new study conducted in Taiwan suggests that the hepatitis C virus is the true culprit behind the nation's rising rates of hepatocellular carcinoma (a common type of liver cancer), debunking theories that the hepatitis B virus was mostly to blame.
The study, entitled Secular trends and geographic variations of hepatitis B and hepatitis C virus-associated hepatocellular carcinoma in Taiwan, was conducted jointly by Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Kaohsiung, National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei and Changhua Christian Hospital in Changhua City.
The study reviewed 18,423 hepatocellular carcinoma cases in the country between 1981 and 2001, focusing on Yunlin and Tainan counties, and Chiayi City -- regions where liver cancer is especially prevalent.
Findings show that while the overall mortality rate in patients with liver cancer caused by hepatitis B had dropped, the number of deaths related to the cancer caused by hepatitis C had increased significantly. Specifically, hepatitis C-related hepatocellular carcinoma deaths shot up by approximately 66 percent in Taiwanese males, and deaths doubled for Taiwanese females.
Lu Sheng-nan (盧勝男), a physician at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital said that preventative measures for hepatitis B have been effective; however, more and stronger measures are needed to prevent the spread of hepatitis C, for which no vaccine is currently available.
The virus is transmitted by blood-to-blood contact, usually via intravenous drug injection or transfusions of unscreened blood.
Hepatitis B is usually trans-mitted through exchange of bodily fluids. This includes unprotected sex, blood transfusions and the use of contaminated syringes.
The study is scheduled to be published in the International Journal of Cancer, a prominent medical periodical.