Hep B Blog

Category Archives: Liver

Protecting Yourself From Liver Cancer While Living with Hepatitis B

This Liver Cancer Awareness Month, we are connecting the dots between hepatitis B and liver cancer. Hepatitis B is responsible for up to 60% of all liver cancer cases worldwide. In fact, some of the highest rates of liver cancer are found in places with extremely high rates of hepatitis B, such as sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Although liver cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world, it is the second most common cause of cancer deaths. Liver cancer prevention should be a priority for all living with hepatitis B. Luckily, there are steps that you can take to prevent liver cancer – whether you are living with hepatitis B or not! 

The Importance of Regular Check-Ups

Did you know that a chronic hepatitis B infection can lead to liver cancer without signs of previous damage such as cirrhosis?  Many people do not realize that chronic hepatitis B is the primary global risk factor for developing liver cancer. Cirrhosis – or scarring or the liver – is often a risk factor for liver cancer, but it is not always the case for those living with hepatitis B. This is one of the reasons why it is so important for family members and sexual partners of infected individuals to get tested as well! Lack of symptoms does not mean that damage is not occurring. 

Visiting a doctor regularly is the best way to prevent liver cancer if you are living with hepatitis B. The standard recommendation for visiting your doctor is every six months however this can vary based upon the severity of your infection. The doctor will take a few blood tests, along with an ultrasound examination of the abdominal area to determine the health of the liver. Based upon these tests and other risk factors, the doctor will be able to determine if liver damage is occurring and can guide you on which steps you should take next. 

If damage is detected early enough, progression to liver cancer can be prevented through highly effective treatments that stop or slow the virus from reproducing in your liver. However, it is important to note that not everyone living with hepatitis B needs treatment. Current treatments have been proven to be most effective when there are signs of active liver damage. Hepatitis B can be managed through regular monitoring by a knowledgeable doctor and lifestyle changes that can go a long way in protecting your body. 

Early detection of liver cancer is extremely important. The average 5-year survival rate once diagnosed with liver cancer ranges from 10% -14%. However, with early detection and proper treatment, those numbers rise to over 50%! This significant difference is because if liver cancer is caught early, a doctor can link you to life-saving treatments including chemotherapy, surgical options, ablation techniques, intra-arterial therapies or a liver transplant. Regular monitoring by a knowledgeable doctor will hopefully identify the markers of liver cancer before it occurs, but if you are living with liver cancer, there are treatment options and resources available to you. 

Preventing Liver Cancer 

Educating oneself is the first step in prevention! If you have hepatitis B, be aware of the risk factors and behaviors that can increase your likelihood of liver damage and liver cancer, such as consuming alcohol and high amounts of junk food, and lack of exercise. Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) can also increase your risk of cancer, so it is important to discuss NAFLD risk factors and prevention tips with your doctor. Groups such as the CDC Division of Viral Hepatitis and the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases all provide free fact sheets, call lines, and literature by experts that can help you understand what may be occurring in your body and to make educated choices. You can also check out our Liver Cancer Connect resource for more information or for liver cancer support. 

The hepatitis B vaccine is also the first anti-cancer vaccine ever created! Remember that the vaccine is typically given in a set of 3 doses. It is extremely important to take all three in order to receive lifelong protection from hepatitis B-related liver cancer. In the U.S., there is also a 2-dose vaccine available, so you can be fully protected with fewer doses! If you are worried about the cost of the birth dose for your infant or the vaccine for yourself, many countries have free health clinics that can administer it or link you to an organization that can help. 

Another key to preventing liver cancer is to get tested for hepatitis B. If you have not received your vaccine and you think you fall into a high-risk group, talk to your doctor about getting tested. Because hepatitis B often has no symptoms, it is important to get screened even if you do not feel ill. An early diagnosis means that you can begin any needed treatment sooner and prevent irreversible damage from occurring. Like the vaccines, your local doctor or health clinic may be able to test you for free or reduced cost – just ask! Some local community groups also provide free hepatitis B testing, so be sure to look out for flyers and announcements about them in your community as well

Join Us For a Twitter Chat for Liver Cancer Awareness Month!

 

 

 

 

October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month. Each year in the United States, about 33,000 people get liver cancer and a large portion of liver cancer cases are caused by viral hepatitis. Viral hepatitis is preventable and when diagnosed and linked to care early, can be treated to prevent liver cancer from developing. The majority of people living with hepatitis B and hepatitis C are unaware of their status and often find out after serious damage has occurred. Liver cancer is one of the only cancers that continues to rise steadily each year. On Wednesday, October 23 at 3PM ET representatives from Hepatitis B Foundation, CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis, and NASTAD will co-host a twitter chat to discuss the link between liver cancer and viral hepatitis as well as the importance of engaging communities most affected, particularly patients, in our response.

A large part of our chat this year is centered upon the patient voice. The patient perspective is essential to our efforts to prevent liver cancer and improving the lives of those affected by it. Jacki Chen, one of the Hepatitis B Foundation’s #justB storytellers and Karen Hoyt, a hepatitis C patient advocate with the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable,  will be joining this year’s twitter chat as featured guest to share their unique experiences.

Below are the questions to be discussed during the chat. How can you participate? Join the conversation that day and throughout the month with the hashtag #LiverChat19. Share any resources or strategies you have that raise awareness about the link between liver cancer and hepatitis as well as how to better engage communities most affected, particularly patients, in our work. We also encourage you to share any videos or photos you have of your work in your communities or activities during Liver Cancer Awareness Month!

· Q1: What are things everyone should know about liver cancer, and also the link between hepatitis and liver cancer?

· Q2: What can people do to prevent hepatitis, or for those living with hepatitis, what can be done to protect the liver and prevent liver cancer?

· Q3: What are the barriers that keep people from getting screened for hepatitis and liver cancer and how can they be addressed?

· Q4: Why are some communities more vulnerable to hepatitis and liver cancer, and how do we address the disparities?

· Q5: How do we engage communities most affected by hepatitis or liver cancer in our work? Why is this important?

· Q6: What resources are available to educate others about hepatitis B & C and liver cancer? What resources are needed?

· Q7: Who are your key partners in addressing liver cancer? Who would you like to engage more in your work? (Tag them here!)

· Q8: What is one lesson learned or piece of advice for others who want to expand their work on the link between viral hepatitis and liver cancer?

· Q9: Centering the voices of patients and liver cancer survivors is incredibly important in improving our response and ensuring their needs are being met. How do you do this in your work? How can we as a community do this better?

Co-hosts and featured partners of the chat include:

· Hepatitis B Foundation – @hepbfoundation

· NASTAD – @NASTAD

· CDC Division of Viral Hepatitis – @cdchep

· CDCNPIN will be moderating the chat – @cdcnpin

· Jacki Chen – @jacki0362

· Karen Hoyt – @hepatitisIhelpC

· Global Liver Institute- @GlobalLiver

· American Liver Foundation- @liverUSA

Confirmed participants and their handles include:

· National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable- @NVHR1

· Hep B United – @hepbunited

· Hep B United Philadelphia – @hepbunitedphila

· Liver Cancer Connect – @LiverCancerConn

· Hepatitis Delta Connect – @HepDConnect

· Hepatitis Education Project – @HepEduProject

· Minnesota Department of Health – @MNHealth

· Hep Free Hawaii – @HepFreeHawaii

· Hawaii Health – @HIgov_Health

· Hep Free NYC – @HepFreeNYC

· MD Anderson Cancer Center – @MDAndersonNews

· AAPCHO – @HepBPolicy

. HHS Viral Hepatitis – HHS_ViralHep

· Kiiza Alexander – @KiizaAlexander

· Minnesota Health Department – @MNHealth

·HHS Division of Viral Hepatitis – @HHS_ViralHep

·HHS Division of Viral Hepatitis – @HHS_ViralHep

·Rowaye Ridwan – @otunbaridwan

·Hassan Muhammad Bature – @Hasanb1980

·Lilian Mary Nabuya – @Inabunya

·Wenyue Lu – @lu_wenyue

·Dave Nkengeh – @Davy_Tazinkeng

·Hepatitis B Initiative of Washington D.C. – @HBIDC

· Shakur Xassan – @sheykoshee

·Maryland Cancer Collaborative

Just getting started with Twitter? Do you wish to join the conversation but you don’t know how? Type #LiverChat19 in the search box of the Twitter application to follow the chat, and click on “Latest”. Email michaela.jackson@hepb.org to be added to the list of confirmed participants!

CVS Caremark : Re-Add Vemlidy To Your Formulary

UPDATE: The Hepatitis B Foundation and Hep B United, along with our network of patients, providers and partners, has successfully advocated for improved access to the hepatitis B medication Vemlidy in the US.! In July 2019 CVS Caremark – a subsidiary of CVS Health and one of the nation’s leading pharmacy benefit managers  stopped providing coverage for Vemlidy. This decision impacted thousands of Americans who rely on this life-saving drug to manage their hepatitis B.

Our members took swift action. Together, we sent over 20 letters from partner organizations and gathered over 250 individual signatures for a petition encouraging CVS Caremark to provide coverage for this essential medication. 
The company announced last week that they will resume coverage of Vemlidy for their plan members as early as October 2019! Thank you to everyone who helped us to advocate for this important change. We firmly believe that all FDA-approved medications should be available for doctors to prescribe to their patients, and this change will ensure that those on CVS Caremark plans have access to this life-saving drug.
What’s Next:
On October 1, 2019, Vemlidy will be processed for those under the Advanced Control Specialty Formulary. For those with a Value Formulary, Vemlidy will be covered beginning on January 1, 2020.
Until January 1st, Gilead Sciences – the creators of Vemlidy – will provide $1,000 a month (for up to $5,000) to offset the costs of treatment. Those interested can go to Gilead’s website and apply for a co-pay card; insurance is not needed.
Thank you to everyone who signed the petition, wrote a letter, or simply shared the information. Because of you, those who rely on Vemlidy now have one less barrier to accessing their needed treatment!

A few months ago, CVS Caremark – a subsidiary of CVS Health – announced their intentions to remove Vemlidy from their list of covered medications, or formulary. With over 2.2 million individuals in the United States living with chronic hepatitis B, this decision impacts thousands of Americans who rely on this life-saving drug to prevent cirrhosis and liver cancer.

CVS Caremark is the second-largest Pharmacy Benefits Manager (PBM) in the United States. As a PBM, Caremark manages prescription drug benefit plans for payers including health insurers and large employers. One of their main tasks is to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers and develop and maintain formularies on behalf of health insurers, which influence which drugs are available to patients on their prescription drug plan and determine out-of-pocket costs. Negotiations between PBMs and drug companies are common. However, they create a dangerous, unstable health and financial situation for those suffering from chronic illnesses.

When it comes to the treatment of chronic illnesses like hepatitis B, medical decisions are best made based upon knowledgeable and informed discussions between the doctor and the patient. After all, doctors have been tracking and monitoring how the virus impacts an individual for many months, if not years, and a patient is aware of how their body reacts to certain medications. CVS Caremark’s decision to remove Vemlidy from their formularies limits the ability of providers to make the best treatment choice for their individual hepatitis B patients.

Vemlidy is one of just three first-line hepatitis B treatments. First-line treatments are medications that have been proven to be highly effective with the least amount of side effects. For some individuals, this drug is the best option, as other FDA treatments can increase their risk of kidney disease and bone density loss. Hepatitis B expert and Medical Director of the Hepatitis B Foundation Robert G Gish, MD, notes two separate studies where tenofovir alafenamide (TAF) (Vemlidy) had lower amounts of bone density loss and kidney impairment than tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (entecavir), another first-line treatment. In order to properly help their patients, doctors need to have a full range of tools at their disposal. All FDA approved medications should be available for doctors to choose from.

The Hepatitis B Foundation’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Board is also concerned about the negative health impacts of Caremark’s decision. “TAF is less likely to cause adverse bone mineral density and renal dysfunctions than Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF). This is true not only for patients at risk of these complications but the overall hepatitis B patient population as demonstrated in clinical studies comparing TAF and TDF. By removing Vemlidy from the formulary plan, CVS Caremark is implementing a significant barrier to thousands of Americans who may need and/or rely on this drug to manage their hepatitis B….We are not advocating that all hepatitis B patients have to be treated with TAF. We believe that this decision should be made by the patient’s doctor with the patient.”

What Does This Mean: 

Now that Vemlidy has been removed from Caremark’s list of covered treatments, those living with chronic hepatitis B will either have to pay the full price or switch to another medication. To put this into perspective, the average retail price of Vemlidy is $1,350 USD a month. The average cash price reached $1,650 USD in July. There is no generic version of the drug. Like other hepatitis B treatments, Vemlidy must be taken daily over the course of several years to be effective; an individual paying the average retail price would have to pay approximately $16,200 a year to access their medication.

Others will be forced to change from Vemlidy to a similar treatment that is cheaper, but may be less effective with safety issues. This practice is known as non-medical switching: when insurers or PBMs make changes to a formulary primarily due to financial negotiations with manufacturers, in exchange for greater market share.

According to the Alliance for Patient Access, non-medical switching is associated with poor health outcomes. One of their recent studies found that patients who had been switched off their preferred medication experienced complications from the new medication. One in 10 reported being hospitalized for complications after the switch, approximately 40% stopped taking their medication completely, and 60% reported side effects from the new medication. These complications are extremely dangerous for individuals taking hepatitis B medication, as stopping suddenly and without consulting an expert can cause the virus to flare and increase the risk of liver disease, and liver cancer.

Taking Action

Hep B United (HBU) – a program of the Hepatitis B Foundation and a national coalition of over 40 organizations – has started a petition and will be sending a letter to CVS Caremark.

Individuals can ask CVS Caremark to reinstate Vemlidy by signing this petition! Organizations can add their names to HBU’s official letter commenting on Caremark’s decision. We hope that CVS Caremark will honor their commitment to the health of Americans and add Vemlidy back on their formularies!

Hemochromatosis: Treatment, the Liver, and Hepatitis B

Genetic conditions can be an unfortunate part of life, but with information and support, some can be managed. By sharing your family health history and learning about genetic disorders that run in the family, measures can be taken to prevent damage and help your loved ones stay healthy!

Hereditary hemochromatosis is one of the most common genetic disorders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 80-90% of hemochromatosis cases are from the hereditary form of the condition1. Due to a mutation in the HFE gene, the body begins to produce too much iron – a process

Northern European Countries

called iron overload. Iron overload can cause complications in the liver, heart, and pancreas2. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), hereditary hemochromatosis has several names that all refer to the same disorder: bronze diabetes, classic hemochromatosis, hemochromatosis type I, hemosiderosis, HFE-related hemochromatosis, HH, and primary hemochromatosis. The two non-hereditary forms of hemochromatosis are secondary hemochromatosis and neonatal hemochromatosis. Both are considered to be rare. Although the hereditary form is common, the exact number of patients worldwide is unknown. Globally, it is estimated that 1 in 227 individuals of Northern European descent is living with hemochromatosis. In the U.S, an estimated 1 million individuals are impacted as well 2

Not everyone who has the mutant gene develops hemochromatosis. These individuals are known as “carriers”; they can pass the gene on without suffering from the symptoms. Symptoms include joint pain, fatigue, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, and a bronze or grey skin color. For most patients, symptoms do not appear until middle age (40-60) because it takes time for the iron to build up in the body. Males tend to be affected more often than women and experience symptoms at a younger age as well 3,2. Some carriers for the mutant gene may develop a more severe version of the disorder called juvenile hemochromatosis. With juvenile hemochromatosis, patients experience an excessive amount of iron overload that can lead to liver and heart damage between the ages of 15 and 30.

Hemochromatosis, the Liver, and Hepatitis B

While the body needs a certain amount of iron to function, iron overload can be dangerous.  Hemochromatosis can lead to two major liver issues: hepatomegaly and cirrhosis. Hepatomegaly is the enlargement of the liver and cirrhosis is the scarring of the liver. Both issues can impair the liver’s ability to function and filter out toxins that enter the body. They can also increase a person’s risk of developing liver cancer. Recently, two major studies by the University of Exeter and the U.K. University of Connecticut, and the U.S. National Institute on Aging have found that a person living with hemochromatosis has four times the risk of developing a liver disease than a person who is living with the disorder.

For individuals living with hepatitis B, it is extremely important to understand any behaviors or conditions that may have a negative impact on your liver. Since one liver disease can increase your risk of another liver disease, it is important to identify the disorder as early as possible, especially if you have any of the following risk factors:

Risk Factors for Hereditary Hemochromatosis:

  • Men or postmenopausal women
  • Of Northern European descent
  • Having a relative with hemochromatosis

Risk Factors for Secondary Hemochromatosis:

  • Alcoholism
  • Family history of diabetes, heart disease, or liver disease
  • Taking iron or vitamin C supplements

Hepatitis B patients do not have an increased risk of developing hemochromatosis4. However, if you have any of the above risk factors, it is important to get tested. Hemochromatosis can easily be identified by a comprehensive look at a person’s family health history, a physical exam, and a simple blood sample. Your doctor will then use the blood sample to run a series of tests that may include transferrin saturation (TS), serum ferritin, or liver function tests. In certain cases, the doctor may also perform genetic testing to see if the mutant HFE gene is present.

Treatment

Treatment for hemochromatosis is available! Based up tests results, family history, medical history, and the appearance of symptoms, the doctor may suggest a few different treatment methods. In therapeutic phlebotomy – the most common treatment method – a patient undergoes regular blood draw to lower the amount of iron in the body. This method is effective, affordable, and typically lasts for an extended period of time. Through iron chelation therapy, patients can either receive an injection or orally consume a medication that will lower the amount of iron in your blood. Finally, some doctors may suggest changes to your diet, such as eating less vitamin C, avoiding alcohol and shellfish, and not taking iron supplements. Dietary changes are mainly used to prevent liver damage.

For more information on HH, you can visit the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

References:

  1. Grosse, S. (2017). A New Public Health Assessment of the Disease Burden of Hereditary Hemochromatosis: How Clinically Actionable is C282Y Homozygosity? [Blog]. Retrieved from https://blogs-origin.cdc.gov/genomics/2017/08/16/a-new-public-health-assessment/
  2. National Organization for Rare Disorders. (2019). Classic Hereditary Hemochromatosis. Retrieved from https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/classic-hereditary-hemochromatosis/#general-discussion
  3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2019). Hemochromatosis. Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/hemochromatosis
  4. Beaton, M., & Adams, P. (2007). The Myths and Realities of Hemochromatosis. Canadian Journal Of Gastroenterology, 21(2), 101-104. doi: 10.1155/2007/619401