If You're a Baby Boomer... Get This Test Done Now

One of the deadliest cancers is about to claim more lives than ever.

Doctors expect liver cancer to claim 31,780 lives in the U.S. this year. It's one of the deadliest cancers you can get. That's because it's often undiagnosed until it's already advanced.

The truly scary part: Even though overall cancer rates have dropped, liver cancer cases are increasing every year. The CDC expects an increase of nearly 50% in new liver cancer cases between 2010 and 2020.

And the reason has to do with the Baby Boomer generation...

We warned you about this a few years ago. If you were born between 1945 and 1965, you need to get tested for hepatitis C.

Out of the 3.5 million Americans with this virus, a staggering 75% of them are in the Baby Boomer generation.

Even worse, most of these 3.5 million don't even know they're sick...

Hepatitis C is one type of the liver disease hepatitis (from the Greek hepat- meaning liver and -itis, meaning inflamed). The other types of the virus are A and B.

Hepatitis A comes from consuming food or beverages with the virus in it. This usually happens when feces contaminate the food or water. Hepatitis A is rare in the U.S., and your body fights it off in about three months.

Hepatitis B spreads through sex, sharing needles, and direct contact with infected bodily fluids (like blood). It usually lasts about six months but can remain in your system for much longer. You can even have it and not have any symptoms.

Hepatitis C, like hepatitis B, is spread through sharing needles, direct contact with bodily fluids, and – to a much lesser extent – sex. It can last anywhere from six months to the rest of your life.

Overall, hepatitis causes symptoms like:

  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark urine
  • Yellow eyes or skin 

However, most types of hepatitis usually don't cause any symptoms until you already have severe liver damage. Without treatment, you're at risk for cirrhosis, or permanent scarring of your liver... That can cause liver failure and liver cancer.

For years, we've known that members of the Baby Boomer generation had significantly higher rates of hepatitis C.

Originally, doctors blamed the behavior of Baby Boomers for the spread of hepatitis C... Boomers had higher rates of recreational drug use and unprotected sex than previous generations. This led to a stigma that kept some folks from seeking health care.

However, research in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal showed that folks in the Baby Boomer generation can blame hospital errors for higher rates of the disease. That's because doctors didn't use disposable needles until the late fifties and early sixties.

Clinicians pinpointed the largest spread of hepatitis C to 1950. That's when doctors washed, disinfected, and re-used needles. But sometimes disinfecting didn't kill the hepatitis C virus.

It also means doctors and hospitals unknowingly exposed Baby Boomers to diseases when they were infants or toddlers. It also wasn't until 1992 that we began thorough disease screening on blood used for transfusions.

Don't ignore your risk for hepatitis C. About 60% to 70% of folks will get chronic liver disease, up to 20% will get scarring called cirrhosis, and about 1% to 5 % of folks will die from either cirrhosis or liver cancer. And with the death rate from hepatitis rising, we'll likely see even more deaths in the coming years.

That's why testing is so important. In fact, researchers wrote in Clinical Infectious Diseases that expanding age-based testing could lead to an additional 280,000 folks cured. It's a one-time test for most Baby Boomers and can be done with a simple blood draw.

For years, the treatments for hepatitis C wrought brutal side effects and only worked for a small percentage of folks. As reported in a review from the Medical School of Lisbon, Portugal, the cure rate used to be 6% and treatment involved painful injections. Today, the cure rate is nearly 90% and treatment uses pills instead of shots.

This Sunday is World Hepatitis Day. This is our reminder to Baby Boomers to take control of your health – and your future – by getting a hepatitis test today.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
July 25, 2019