A Taiwanese medical research team said that it has developed an index of five critical-risk factors used to predict the risk of developing liver cancer from hepatitis C in a five-to-5 year period.
Advancing Clinical Treatment of Liver Disease director and National Taiwan University Hospital Medical Department physician Kao Jia-horng (高嘉宏) said the prevalence of hepatitis C is about 4 percent in Taiwan — higher than in China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia — with about 400,000 to 600,000 cases nationwide.
Hepatitis C is transmitted primarily by blood-to-blood contact, such as through unprotected sexual intercourse, tattoos, needle sharing, surgery, blood transfusion and acupuncture; and about 50 percent of patients with acute hepatitis C develop a chronic infection, he said.
If hepatitis C patients develop cirrhosis of the liver, about 30 percent are likely to suffer from hepatic failure within 10 years, and about 1 to 4 percent develop liver cancer every year, Kao said.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, Kao added.
The research team conducted a follow-up study on 1,095 hepatitis C patients over 15 years and identified five factors that contribute a patients’ risk of developing liver cancer — age, liver function index (alanine aminotransferase, ALT), virus genotype, viral load and the degree of liver fibrosis.
Team member and assistant professor at National Yang Ming University Institute of Clinical Medicine Lee Mei-hsuan (李美璇) said patients above 40 years of age, with higher ALT and hepatitis C viral load, more severe liver fibrosis and genotype 1 face greater risk of developing liver cancer and that the index model has a precision of about 70 percent.
The degree of liver fibrosis has the highest association with the risks of developing liver cancer, she said, adding that hepatitis C can be treated and cured, especially with new oral medicines developed to reduce viral load and slow the development of liver fibrosis, but patients are advised to make follow-up visits to doctors regularly.
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