UEG press release

World Hepatitis Day: Experts call for greater awareness of the ‘Silent Epidemic’ increasing the risk of liver cancer

August 14, 2014

Professor Joost Drenth

World Hepatitis Day: Experts call for awareness of the ‘Silent Epidemic’ increasing the risk of liver cancer.

(July, 23, 2014) Ahead of World Hepatitis Day, 28th July 2014, United European Gastroenterology (UEG) call for greater awareness of the symptoms of hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus that increases the risk of developing liver cancer.

78% of all primary liver cancer cases are associated with a prior hepatitis B or C infection1. Liver cancer is estimated to be responsible for 746,000 worldwide deaths each year, making it the second most common cause of cancer death2.

Speaking on behalf of UEG, hepatology expert Professor Joost Drenth is calling for increased public awareness of hepatitis as controlling the deadly virus is currently proving to be a major challenge for health providers in the UK and across Europe. Professor Drenth explains “90% of people with hepatitis are unaware of their infection because it can remain asymptomatic for decades. Late diagnosis and insufficient access to effective new treatments leave many patients at risk of serious health complications including liver cancer and cirrhosis.”

He adds, “Historically, people with the infection have been highly stigmatised as the virus is generally associated with intravenous drug use. However, for a majority of patients the route of infection is unknown. The virus is present in the blood and, to a much lesser extent, the saliva and semen or vaginal fluid of an infected person. GPs, sexual health clinics and GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinics can all test for the disease via a simple blood test.”

Professor Drenth explains the symptoms of hepatitis C which can include the following:

Flu-like symptoms with increased aches, pains and headaches

Extreme fatigue causing you to feel unable to perform certain tasks

Depression and loss of interest or pleasure in activities that you normally enjoy

Notes to Editors

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that predominantly infects the cells of the liver3. This can result in inflammation and significant damage4, which can affect the liver’s ability to perform its essential functions. Although it has always been regarded as a liver disease - ‘hepatitis’ means ‘inflammation of the liver’ - recent research has revealed that the hepatitis C virus (HCV) affects a number of other areas in the body. These can include the digestive system, the lymphatic system, the immune system and the brain. Recent research has also indicated that HCV destroys a key protective tumour-supressing gene5.

The course of a chronic hepatitis C infection is extremely varied and unpredictable. Some people experience very few symptoms for as long as a decade, while others suffer symptoms almost from the start. Some will progress to develop fibrosis and cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer or end stage liver disease, while others experience very little liver damage, even after many years. In cases where there is an absence of symptoms, many people do not discover that they have HCV until sometime after they have been infected.

About UEG

UEG, or United European Gastroenterology, is a professional non-profit organisation combining all the leading European societies concerned with digestive diseases. Together, its member societies represent over 22,000 specialists, working across medicine, surgery, paediatrics, gastrointestinal oncology and endoscopy. This makes UEG the most comprehensive organisation of its kind in the world, and a unique platform for collaboration and the exchange of knowledge. Find out more about UEG’s work. Visit www.ueg.eu 

Available for interview

Professor Joost Drenth, European hepatitis and liver cancer expert

Press contact

Samantha Forster media@ueg.eu Tel: +44(0)1444 811099 @UEGMedia

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