Hep B Blog

October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month! What’s the Hep B Connection?

Liver Cancer Ribbon

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), liver cancer is the second most common cancer in the world, leading to 788,000 annual deaths worldwide. Most liver cancer cases occur in developing countries. More than 80 percent of these cancers are found in sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Asia where more than 20 of every 100,000 people will suffer and die from liver cancer. However, liver cancer is alarmingly on the rise in developed countries, as well. In a recent study, researchers from The American Cancer Society found that liver cancer is the fastest-growing cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Only 20 percent of people diagnosed with liver cancer survive beyond five years, and the number of deaths have doubled since the mid-1980s, and they are expected to continue to rise.

Why is liver cancer growing in most of the world? There are many risk factors for liver cancer, but chronic hepatitis B accounts for up to 60% of liver cancer and is the most common risk factor for this type of cancer. People who are chronically infected with hepatitis B are 100 times more likely to develop liver cancer compared to those who are not. The hepatitis B virus attacks the liver directly and repeatedly over time. This can lead to liver damage and scarring of the liver (or cirrhosis); which greatly increases the risk of liver cancer.

Sometimes, people with hepatitis B can develop liver cancer even when they do not have cirrhosis. There are a number of complicating factors which can  increase the risk of liver cancer including traits specific to the virus and the person and their health status, which should be discussed with a liver specialist to determine when you should initiate screening.

Forms

How many years have you had hepatitis B? The longer you’re infected, the higher your risk of liver cancer.

What is your gender? Men are considered at higher risk of liver cancer and may be screened starting at an earlier age because they may be more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, have more “active” hepatitis, and higher iron stores—all of which increase cancer risk. Estrogen is believed to protect pre-menopausal women against liver cancer.

Have you had a high viral load (HBV DNA) after age 30? Having a viral load exceeding 2,000 international units per milliliter (IU/mL) is associated with a higher risk of liver cancer even if you have no other signs of liver damage.

Do you have a family history of liver cancer? If an immediate family member has had liver cancer, this greatly increases your risk.

Are you overweight, or have you been diagnosed recently with type 2 diabetes? A fatty liver and/or diabetes increase your risk of liver damage and cancer dramatically when you’re also infected with hepatitis B.

Do you have hepatitis B virus genotype C or core/precore viral mutations? Originating in Asia, this hepatitis B strain is associated with loss of the hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) later in life. That means you may have had a high viral load and liver damage for a longer period than people with genotypes who clear HBeAg at a younger age. Having core or precore mutations in your HBV also increase liver cancer risk.

If you are living with chronic hepatitis B and are concerned about liver cancer, there are steps you can take. Working with a good health care provider to manage your hepatitis B is important, as is having a healthy lifestyle. Talk to you doctor about your risk, and about getting screened for liver cancer at least annually – early detection saves lives!

To commemorate Liver Cancer Awareness Month this October, help us spread the word about the link between hepatitis B and liver cancer! You can also join our Twitter Chat on Thursday, October 12th at 2:00pm – along with our partners CDC Division of Viral Hepatitis, and the National Alliance of State and Territorial Aids Directors (NASTAD). To join the chat, use the hashtag #liverchat. For more information, visit our blog post.

Remember to talk to your doctor about the risk factors for liver cancer, and if you have hepatitis B, ask to get screened for liver cancer. For more information about liver cancer visit the Liver Cancer Connect website.

Who is Ted Slavin? #virusappreciationday

“We will long remember Ted Slavin as a gallant man who loved life and who contributed greatly to our research efforts”

-Baruch S. Blumberg, Irving Millman, W. Thomas London, and other members of the Division of Clinical Research Fox Chase Cancer Center, 19851

Baruch S. Blumberg

“Who is Ted Slavin? Why haven’t I heard about him before?” crept into my mind as I was reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Rebecca Skloot wrote a short snippet about Ted Slavin, detailing the story of a hemophiliac who sold his antibodies and aided Dr. Baruch Blumberg in the discovery of the link between the hepatitis B virus and liver cancer, which eventually led to the first hepatitis B vaccine.2 I was surprised that I had never heard of him, and that his name was not enshrined on the walls of the Hepatitis B Foundation. I see the smiling and jovial face of Dr. Blumberg nearly every time I walk into the office, but never the image of a man who contributed so much to his efforts.

Blood Serum

Ted Slavin developed antibodies against hepatitis B after receiving infected blood transfusions to treat his hemophilia. The blood he received back in the 1950s was not screened for any diseases. His doctor helped him realize that his blood was valuable because of the copious amounts of antibodies for hepatitis B. At the time, those antibodies were a hot commodity as scientists were conducting research to learn more about hepatitis B prevention and treatment. Slavin decided to the sell his antibody-rich blood and even donated his blood to Dr. Blumberg’s research team at Fox Chase Cancer Center. He later formed Essential Biologicals, a company that collected blood from others like him. They were everyday patients who could turn their rare or unique blood into money making products, while at the same time advancing important research into diseases that were not well understood.2

As I read the brief overview of Slavin’s life, I initially perceived him as someone who was both lucky and smart: Slavin was lucky because his doctor gave him information on the value of his antibodies2; and smart because he knew how to make the best of something once considered a burden in his life.3 As I did a little more detective work, I realized Ted Slavin was not just a guy who made money off his cells, but someone who contributed to the fight against the hepatitis B virus, which I am passionate about!

My detective work led me to a deeper understanding of Mr. Slavin and his contribution to important milestones on the road to hepatitis B elimination.3,4,5,6,7 I found discussions and case studies on the ethics associated with his circumstance. Through my research journey, I learned more about him and my perception of Slavin started to change. He was, like many, struggling to make ends meet. He didn’t entirely profit off his antibodies because he donated a majority of the money he made to advance scientific research.4 At the same time, Slavin was “hopeful for a cure,” and he trusted Dr. Blumberg, his favorite researcher among the many studying hepatitis B, with his antibodies.1 To Dr. Blumberg and the researchers working with him, Ted Slavin was a brave, courageous man who helped save millions of lives.1

The story of Ted Slavin, like that of Henrietta Lacks, is not only a reminder of the importance of bioethics and the need for public health and scientific research; his story reminds us there is an invisible face behind every success. Because of Ted Slavin, there are tests to diagnose hepatitis B, ways to detect liver cancer linked to hepatitis B, and the first cancer preventative vaccine!

For more information about the hepatitis B vaccine, please visit our website here.

For helping looking for the hepatitis B vaccine, you can go  here or to the HealthMap Vaccine Finder.

 

References:

  1. Lavin, EFS. (2013). Exploring Life and Death at the Cellular Level: An Examination of How Our Cells Can Live Without Us. Quadrivium: A Journal of Multidisciplinary Scholarship, 5(1),
  2. Skloot, R. (2010). The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Crown Publishing Group.
  3. Ted Slavin’s Story and more. Retrieved from: http://tissuerights.weebly.com/ted-slavin.html
  4. Skloot, R. (2006, Apr 16). Taking the Least of You. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/16/magazine/taking-the-least-of-you.html
  5. Angsana T. (2010, Nov 9). Second Story from Ted Slavin. Retrieved from: http://angsanat.blogspot.com/2010/11/second-story-from-ted-slavin.html
  6. C, Anna. (2012, Jul 26). World Hepatitis Day: The History of the Hepatitis B Vaccine. Retrieved from: http://advocatesaz.org/2012/07/26/world-hepatitis-day-the-history-of-the-hepatitis-b-vaccine/