May 25, 2010
A spike in the rate of hepatitis C throughout Queens is behind an "unusually high rate" of liver cancer in the borough, say local health officials.
Hepatitis C is a particular concern among newly arrived immigrants from Asia and Russia, said Dr. Mitchell Chorost, director of surgical oncology at New York Hospital Queens. Chorost said the symptoms of hepatitis -- nausea, fever, and fatigue -- are vague and easily overlooked.
"These cultures are very close people," he said. "They assimilate with each other and that's how they spread these diseases."
The rate of liver cancer among male residents of the borough is almost 14 cases per 100,000, about twice the overall state rate. From 2003 to 2007, male Asians and Pacific Islanders in Queens had a rate of 24.1 cases per 100,000 residents, according to state statistics. Women in the borough have a rate of 4.5 liver cancer cases per 100,000.
High hepatitis C rates among recent immigrants reflect a similar pattern of disease in their native countries.
"These are patients who weren't aware they had it in China and Russia and they came with it," Chorost said in his recent "State of the Hospital" address.
This May marks the 15th annual observance of Hepatitis Awareness Month. Health officials stress that that although there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, the disease is treatable, particularly if identified early.
The disproportionate local burden of liver cancer has led to another problem, Chorost said. There is a shortage of transplantable livers for those who are eligible, even given newer technologies such as partial liver transplantation.