March 27 (UPI) -- Less than 13 percent of baby boomer have undergone screening for the hepatitis C virus despite a steady increase in liver cancer in the United States, according to a study.
Data for the blood-born virus were compiled by researchers from the 2013-2015 National Health Interview Surveys, an annual weighted survey of the U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized population. The findings were published Tuesday in the American Association for Cancer Research's Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention journal.
It is estimated that about 3.5 million people are chronically infected with HCV, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and that 75 percent of all people living with HCV were born between 1945 and 1965.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend that all persons born between those years be tested for HCV regardless of risk history.
Liver cancer deaths increased 56 percent over 10 years from 2003, including 23,000 in 2012, according to the CDC.
"In the United States, approximately one in 30 baby boomers are chronically infected with HCV," senior study author Dr. Susan Vadaparampil, a researcher at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., said in an American Association for Cancer Research press release. "Almost half of all cases of liver cancer in the United States are caused by HCV. Therefore, it is important to identify and treat people who have the virus in order to prevent cancer."
In the study, researchers examined four different age cohorts: 15,100 participants born before 1945, 28,725 were baby boomers, 28,089 born 1966-1985 and 13,296 born after 1985. In the survey participants were asked if they had ever had a blood test for hepatitis C.
Dr. Anna Giuliano, founding director of the Center for Infection Research in Cancer at Moffitt said that "our most important finding is that the HCV screening rate isn't increasing in a meaningful way. Between 2013 and 2015, HCV screening only increased by 0.9 percent in the baby boomer population. Given rising rates of liver cancer and high HCV infection rates in this population, this is a critically important finding. It shows that we have substantial room for improvement and we need additional efforts to get this population screened and treated as a strategy to reduce rising rates of liver cancer in the United States."
Screening ranged from 11.9 percent in 2013 to 12.8 percent in 2015 among baby boomers. Among those born between 1966 and 1985, screening rates ranged between 13.7 percent and 14.9 percent. The older birth cohort was screened less.
"Hepatitis C is an interesting virus because people who develop a chronic infection remain asymptomatic for decades and don't know they're infected," lead author Dr. Monica Kasting, a postdoctoral fellow at Moffitt, said. "Most of the baby boomers who screen positive for HCV infection were infected over 30 years ago, before the virus was identified."
The researchers found that females were screened less often than males in every age group. Also, among baby boomers and those born between 1966-1985, HCV screening rates were lower among Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks.
"This is concerning because these groups have higher rates of HCV infection and higher rates of advanced liver disease," Kasting said. "This may reflect a potential health disparity in access to screening, and therefore treatment, for a highly curable infection."
Earlier this month, other researchers with the American Cancer Society also examined testing among baby boomers from the National Health Interview Surveys. In a study of 23,967 baby boomers, they found the percentage was 12.3 percent in 2013 and 13.8 percent in 2015.
Researchers in the earlier story found people with Medicare plus Medicaid, Medicaid only or military insurance had higher rates of testing than the privately insured. And it was also greater in men versus women and college graduates.