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Cancer risk remains after hepatitis B cleared from body

By Stephen Feller
Cancer risk remains after hepatitis B cleared from body
Although hepatitis B virus can be effectively cleared from the body, preventing symptoms and transmission, a recent study by the CDC found curing infection does not lower the increased risk for liver cancer the virus causes. Photo by Jarun Ontakrai/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, April 22 (UPI) -- Although hepatitis B has been linked to liver cancer since the early 1980s, a new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control suggests clearing the virus does not mitigate the increased risk for liver cancer caused by infection.

In the study, published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, CDC researchers found little difference in risk for cancer between people who had a hepatitis B infection treated and those who did not.

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The link between inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus and developing liver cancer led to the development of a vaccine and more aggressive treatment of infection. It was thought that clearing the virus from the body would return liver cancer risk to normal; however, that may not be true.

For the study, the researchers followed 238 patients who resolved a hepatitis B virus infection and 435 who did not from 1982 to 2013, finding the risk for cancer was about the same.

Current hepatitis B treatments prevent progression of disease and death from cirrhosis or liver cancer, but the possibility it does not lower the risk for cancer is significant.

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"Since the risk of liver cancer persists among adults with apparent cure of the infection, they might still need to be followed closely," Dr. Prabhu Gounder, a researcher at the CDC, said in a press release.

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