Hepatitis B and C and the risk of liver cancer

People who are infected with hepatitis B virus (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 may be as high as 200 times greater for people who have chronic HBV or HCV infection than for the general population.1

If you have chronic HBV infection:

  • You may develop liver cancer even if you do not have cirrhosis. But most people who have HBV and liver cancer also have cirrhosis.
  • Receiving antiviral therapy to treat chronic HBV infection may lower your risk for developing liver cancer.

If you have chronic HCV infection:

  • The strain (genotype) of HCV infection does not appear to affect your risk for developing liver cancer.
  • You are not at significant risk of developing cancer unless you also already have cirrhosis.
  • You are at greatly increased risk of liver cancer if you have alcohol-related cirrhosis in addition to hepatitis.
  • Receiving antiviral therapy to treat chronic HCV infection may lower your risk for developing liver cancer.2

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.

Citations

  1. Malet PF (2008). Chronic hepatitis. In DC Dale, DD Federman, eds., ACP Medicine, section 4, chap. 8. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
  2. Baffis V, et al. (1999). Use of interferon for prevention of hepatocellular carcinoma in cirrhotic patients with hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus infection. Annals of Internal Medicine, 131(9): 696–701.

Last Updated: August 6, 2009

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