There are still people who are unaware that alcohol isn’t the only major risk factor for life-threatening liver cancer and cirrhosis. Among various causes, the most dangerous is the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). It is estimated that 7-8 out of 10 liver cancer patients are affected by HBV, while 7 out of 10 with cirrhosis also have a link to the virus.
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies HBV as a Group 1 carcinogen, a primary cause of liver cancer. Persistent HBV infection for more than six months leads to chronic hepatitis. Over half of chronic hepatitis patients in South Korea progress to cirrhosis within 20 years, with some developing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common form of liver cancer. HBV carriers face a staggering 87-fold higher risk of liver cancer compared to non-infected individuals (National Cancer Information Center).
Prevention is the key, and the most crucial method is vaccination against HBV, which provides long-term protection against both the virus and subsequent liver cancer. All newborns and individuals at high risk of HBV infection should receive mandatory vaccination. Even adults, particularly those without HBV antibodies, are advised to get vaccinated. If a spouse is an HBV carrier, using condoms during sexual intercourse can help prevent transmission. Sharing items such as toothbrushes, razors, and nail clippers with an HBV patient should be avoided, as should non-medical injections or acupuncture outside healthcare settings.
For families with HBV carriers, the first priority is treating the infection itself. Family members of HBV carriers are considered at high risk and should receive the HBV vaccine. One to two months after completing the standard vaccination schedule, an anti-HBs (HBV surface antibody) test should be conducted to ensure antibody formation. Although couples should use condoms during sexual activity, everyday activities like sharing meals or regular physical contact do not pose a significant risk of HBV transmission.
Should antibody testing be performed before and after HBV vaccination? According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, individuals at high risk for HBV infection should undergo antibody testing 1-3 months after the third vaccine dose. If antibodies are not detected, an additional dose (up to six doses in total) should be administered. Testing after the first dose (fourth dose) and discontinuing vaccination if antibodies are present is recommended. If antibodies are not formed, the remaining doses (fifth and sixth doses) should be completed, followed by a final antibody test 1-2 months after the last dose. Consulting a healthcare professional for personalized advice is advisable.
In conclusion, raising awareness about the connection between HBV and liver cancer is crucial. Vaccination against HBV is the most effective preventive measure for reducing the risk of liver cancer. Taking timely precautions and following recommended vaccination schedules can significantly contribute to the prevention of this deadly disease.