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Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C

Which cancers are linked to hepatitis B and hepatitis C?

Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are viruses that spread very easily through blood and body fluids. Infections with hepatitis B and hepatitis C virus have been linked to an increased risk of liver cancer. People with hepatitis B are 20 times more likely to develop liver cancer compared with people who don’t have hepatitis B.1 People with hepatitis C are 23 times more likely to develop liver cancer.1

About 220 adults were diagnosed with liver cancer in Alberta in 2012.2 Hepatitis B is linked to somewhere between 19 and 98 of these cases (9-45%) and hepatitis C is linked to somewhere between 22 and 46 cases (10-21%).

How is hepatitis spread?

The hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses can be spread by:

  • sharing needles used for injecting drugs with an infected person
  • getting a tattoo or piercing with tools that weren’t sterilized
  • having sex with an infected person without using a condom

A mother who has hepatitis B can pass it to her baby during delivery. Hepatitis C is sometimes spread this way too.

How does hepatitis increase my risk of cancer?

Hepatitis B and hepatitis C both cause the liver to be inflamed. In some people, the infections don’t clear up and the inflammation lasts for years. When the liver cells are damaged or destroyed, the body has to replace them. When there is a high turnover of cells in the liver, there is a good chance that some of the new cells will lose their ability to stop dividing. In this case, liver cancer sets in. 

Tips to reduce your risk of getting hepatitis and the cancers it causes

Hepatitis B vaccination is offered to all students in Grade 5 through Alberta’s school-based immunization program. The vaccine has a success rate of 95% when all 3 doses are given. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

All women who are pregnant should see a health care provider before the baby is born. Health care providers in Alberta make sure all pregnant women get tested for hepatitis B. If a woman has the virus, her baby can get shots to help prevent the infection from being passed along.

Other ways to avoid getting hepatitis B and hepatitis C include:

  • use a condom when you have sex
  • don't share needles
  • wear latex or plastic gloves if you have to touch blood
  • don't get a tattoo, or make sure that the needles used have been cleaned properly and are sterile
  • don't share toothbrushes or razors

More information on hepatitis B or hepatitis C at MyHealth Alberta.

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Birth Control Pills (oral contraceptives)

Which cancers are linked to birth control pills?

The link between birth control pills and cancer risk is a bit complex. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that the use of birth control pills was linked with an increased risk of breast cancer, especially for women who currently take or recently (within the last 10 years) stopped taking them. On the other hand, IARC also found that the use of birth control pills was linked to a decreased risk of both endometrial and ovarian cancers.

According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, for every 1000 women who used birth control pills for five years, five cases of ovarian cancer are prevented and one case of breast cancer is caused.

Birth control pills are a common method of birth control among women in Alberta. It’s important to understand the risks and benefits related to cancer when deciding to take these drugs. Women should speak with their health care provider about their own and their family history of cancer and other health conditions if they’re thinking about taking birth control pills.

More information on birth control at MyHealth Alberta.

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More information relating to birth control and cancer risk can be found at:

Hormone Replacement Therapy

What is the link to cancer?

The use of hormone replacement therapy to treat symptoms of menopause has been linked to an increased risk of developing both breast and ovarian cancers, but to a reduced risk of developing endometrial cancer.

Additional information about the risks and benefits of taking hormone replacement therapy with respect to cancer are available to help Albertans, along with their primary health care providers, make informed health choices. These include:

Radon

Radon is a radioactive gas found naturally in the environment that is produced by the decay of uranium that is found in soil, rocks or water. Radon can be released into buildings that are built directly on bedrock. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radon as a cause of lung cancer.

More detailed information about radon and how Canadians can reduce their exposure is available through Health Canada’s website.

Other resources to help you learn about radon:

Outdoor Air Pollution

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has categorized outdoor air pollution as a carcinogen, specifically related to increasing the risk of developing lung cancer.

There are a number of different outdoor air pollutants that can impact the lungs, including fine particulate matter (small pieces of debris in the air with a diameter less than 2.5µm). Fine particulate matter can be produced by a number of different sources including traffic, industrial sources and natural sources like forest fires.

More information about sources of air pollution and their relationship to cancer risk can be found on the website of the Canadian Cancer Society.