Hepatitis C was only identified in 1990, he added, so people who had contact with a blood product in the 1980s or earlier also need to be screened for hepatitis C.
"In the long term, like 20 or 30 years and beyond, our prospects are very bright as far as preventing liver cancer from viral hepatitis," Ward said.
"But we still have about 50,000 persons who become infected with hepatitis every year and we would like to get that rate lower still," he said.
May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, Ward noted. "Ask your doctor for vaccination for hepatitis B, and ask if you should be screened for hepatitis B or C," he said.
According to Dr. Eugene Schiff, director of the Center for Liver Diseases at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, early diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma is essential to prevent cancer, and diagnosing cancer early is essential to successfully treating it.
"Unfortunately, the majority of cases that are referred in with a diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma, it's already too far advanced," Schiff said.
Public education campaigns are key because most people with hepatitis don't know it, added an infectious disease expert, Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center.
This should include a massive vaccination campaign against hepatitis B, Siegel said. Eventually, a vaccine for hepatitis C will be developed, "but it won't be anytime soon," he noted.
For now, prevention is the only way to stop hepatitis C from spreading. Since it is commonly spread through sexual contact, "cutting down on the number of partners and using a condom -- these are the main protections," he said.
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