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Hepatitis and Cancer

Hepatitis is a group of viruses that cause swelling (inflammation) in the liver. Some forms of hepatitis can also cause cancer. We help you learn about your risk and take steps to help you manage it. If we suspect you may have cancer, we offer complete care, including testing, treatment and support.

Hepatitis spreads through blood and other body fluids from an infected person. Two types, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, can lead to cancer.

What you need to know about hepatitis

  • You may face a higher risk of hepatitis if you use injected drugs or are a man who has sex with men. Medical conditions such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) also put you at risk.
  • Hepatitis B most commonly spreads from a pregnant woman with the virus to her baby during childbirth.
  • Hepatitis C typically spreads when people use infected needles for medical treatments, tattoos or illegal drugs.
  • Many people don’t know they have hepatitis because it does not cause symptoms.
  • If you have hepatitis, heavy drinking, regularly using tobacco and being overweight (obese) increase your risk of complications.

Hepatitis and cancer

Long-lasting inflammation from hepatitis B or C can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). When you have cirrhosis, the body produces extra liver cells to try to heal the damage. Abnormal changes in some of these cells (mutations) can lead to cancer. The most common type of cancer that hepatitis causes is liver cancer.

Hepatitis can also lead to other forms of cancer, including:

Hepatitis and cancer care at UT Health San Antonio

Talk to your primary care physician to learn more about whether you are at risk for hepatitis. The virus typically does not cause symptoms, but testing can help us confirm or rule out a diagnosis.

If you test positive for hepatitis, we deliver treatments to slow liver damage and possibly lower your cancer risk. Find out more about our primary care providers and locations.

If our primary care doctors suspect cancer, we coordinate with the experts at Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center. You have access to highly skilled doctors who deliver leading care for rare and common types of cancer.

Hepatitis prevention and treatment

The prevention and treatment options that are right for you depend on which type of hepatitis you have and how it affects you. Your care may include:

  • Vaccine: The hepatitis B vaccine can prevent you from getting this form of the virus if you are not already infected. If you were not vaccinated as a child, it’s not too late to start. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
  • Medications: Antiviral drugs may slow the progression of hepatitis B and C. Medications are a treatment option to clear the virus for most people with hepatitis C, although the virus can still come back. You may also receive injections of substances to help you fight the infection. We may also recommend you avoid medications, including certain pain relievers that are hard on your liver.
  • Lifestyle changes: If you drink alcohol or use tobacco regularly, quitting these habits can protect your liver. Find out more about tobacco use and cancer.
  • Cancer screening tests: If you have cirrhosis, we may recommend regular cancer screenings using ultrasound scans. This imaging technique uses radio waves to check for cancerous growths in your liver.