May 23, 2003
Nguyen and colleagues focused on 496 San Francisco-area patients with hepatitis C whose infection had resulted in cirrhosis. Considering ethnicity, researchers looked back at each patient's medical records, comparing the race of those who developed liver cancer with those who did not.
According to Nguyen, Asian Americans "had significantly higher risk for liver cancer as compared to the Caucasian group." Asian Americans infected with hepatitis C had four times the risk of developing cancer compared to white patients, even after factoring in age, gender, and severity of liver disease.
The reason for the disparity remains unclear. One reason could be overall duration of hepatitis C infection. Hepatitis C can be a "silent killer," causing little or no symptoms for years while it begins its slow assault on the liver. According to Nguyen, "many Asian patients may have been infected during childhood, so at a similar age as a Caucasian patient, they may have been infected for 20 or 30 years longer."
Other factors, such as co-infection with hepatitis B, drinking and smoking rates, and access to health care, may also play a role. Finally, genetics could be key in rendering Asian Americans more vulnerable to hepatitis C-linked liver cancer.
05.19.03; E. J. Mundell
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