HCV screening projected to save 120,000 boomers' lives

August 1, 2012

Screening for hepatitis-C may soon become a routine screening for Baby Boomers.

Baby boomers may soon add hepatitis-C (HCV) to their list of routine annual screenings along with colorectal cancer, cholesterol, osteoporosis, and cervical cancer, when a proposed expansion of current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines is put into place.

CDC's proposed expansion of its current HCV risk-based guidelines includes a simple, 1-time blood test for anyone born from 1945 through 1965. More than 75% of American adults with hepatitis C are baby boomers.

"These guidelines are unprecedented in the liver and viral hepatitis realm," Tram Tran, MD, medical director of Liver Transplantation at the Liver Disease and Transplant Center at Cedars-Sinai, told Formulary. "Instead of screening based on symptoms, the recommendation is focused on a particular age group, in this case, baby boomers."

This recommendation is important, according to Dr Tran, because it is expected that there will be a huge influx of patients who will require a higher level of expertise and management of their disease. "That requires some infrastructure, such as a liver program and hepatologists," she said.

According to CDC, too many infections are being missed, since individuals, and even doctors, may be uncomfortable discussing behaviors related to hepatitis C risk. In addition, standard, routine tests of liver function miss more than half of all cases of HCV infection. Currently, CDC recommends testing for those who have a known risk for HCV, including anyone who has ever injected illegal drugs, patients who have ever received long-term hemodialysis treatment, or people living with HIV.

"Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer and cirrhosis, as well as the chief reason for the need for liver transplants in the United States," Dr Tran said.

Dr Tran added that many patients with HCV don't have symptoms. "Proactive testing will ensure more cases are caught early," she said. "Some treatments are showing 70% cure rates."

This recommendation will continue to motivate the industry to advance, according to Tran. "It's already such a fast-moving disease state, and we've been making great strides in how hepatitis C is managed and treated," she said. "There will be numerous patients who will require treatment, and this should spur the creation of treatments that are well tolerated and affordable."

For more on HCV, go to http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HCV/HCVfaq.htm