Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Baby boomers in Canada should test themselves for hepatitis C

Many people in Canada undertake preventive tests to make sure they stay healthy. For most people, the tests that come to mind may be a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer, or a cholesterol test to screen for heart disease. Liver cancer is generally not on their radar, but it is one of the few cancers in Canada that is increasing. The most common condition leading to liver cancer is a long-standing infection with a virus called hepatitis C.

So what does this have to do with you? Nearly two-thirds of hepatitis C infection in Canada occurs in people born between 1945 and 1965, but most don’t know they have the disease. People can remain symptomless for decades, while hepatitis C infection quietly destroys the liver. This can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure, ultimately requiring a liver transplant. In fact, hepatitis C is the No. 1 reason for liver transplants in Canada.

Hepatitis C can also burden your partner or family. Left untreated, you may transmit the virus to your loved ones, through simple things like sharing a razor or toothbrush. It can also contribute to financial stress. One Canadian study noted that, on average, the cost per patient was over $2,000 per year (above insurance coverage), plus an additional $1,300 in out-of-pocket costs for caregivers. Moreover, expenses for the Canadian health-care system may be as high as $240 million annually by the year 2020 if current trends continue.

However, thanks to new and alternative medicine therapies, hepatitis C is curable. If started early, treatment is more likely to be successful (up to 75 per cent of people can be cured!) and can often reverse liver damage, preventing complications like cancer and restoring quality of life. Successful treatment is a true cure.

So why aren’t Baby Boomers getting tested?

Hepatitis C is often a stigmatized disease, only associated with high-risk populations, such as injection drug users. However, there are many other ways to get hepatitis C, including previous blood transfusions, tattooing, and even one-time recreational cocaine use. What’s more is that up to 30 per cent of individuals have no identifiable risk factor for hepatitis C, and many are Baby Boomers. They are the group with the highest rate of hepatitis C in Canada and the group least likely to be tested for it. Primary health-care providers currently do not routinely screen for hepatitis C virus and thus it is up to you to advocate for yourself to get tested. For most Baby Boomers, with all of the other things in life to remember, hepatitis C screening simply may not be a priority.

So, here’s the challenge Baby Boomers:

Make an appointment to get tested by World Hepatitis Day, July 28.

Liver cancer caused by hepatitis C is straightforward; we know exactly what causes it, and how to prevent it. Screening involves a simple, one-time blood test that can literally save your life!


Post a Comment