Life Extension Magazine®

Doctor speaking with patient about testing for hepatitis C for early warning against disease risk

When a Curable Virus Turns into Cancer

Hepatitis C is a major cause of liver cancer and liver failure. A simple blood test provides early warning against this silent disease. Newer hepatitis C drugs have cure rates over 95%.

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, in August 2023. Written by: William Faloon.

William Faloon

People diagnosed with primary liver cancer have a median survival of 6 to 20 months.1 Only 20% are alive after five years.2

A major cause of liver cancer is the hepatitis C virus.

Chronic hepatitis C also increases risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, head and neck cancers,3 liver cirrhosis4,5 and liver failure.6

Yet this virus is now curable in 95% of cases.7

This prompted the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to urge at least one-time blood screening for all Americans aged 18-79 years.8

This recommendation was made because only half of those infected with hepatitis C know it and virtually all can be cured.

Ribavirin was long ago shown to improve response rates of hepatitis C patients treated with alpha-interferon.9 Newer drugs like Harvoni, Epclusa, or Vosevi have dramatically improved the cure rate.10,11

Few of you know about the FDA’s delay in approving ribavirin and the horrific death toll this inflicted.

This article describes the battle Life Extension waged to force the FDA to approve ribavirin.

I then relay a low-cost way to ensure you do not silently harbor a curable hepatitis C virus.

About 2.4 million people in the United States are estimated to have hepatitis C.12 There were an estimated 57,500 new infections as of 2019.13

This virus causes chronic inflammatory damage that can result in cirrhosis and eventual liver failure. Without a transplant, liver failure is universally fatal.14

While the name of the virus is hepatitis, it does not stay only in the liver. It manifests in other parts of the body and induces other cancers beyond primary liver cancer.

Primary liver cancer differs from cancer cells that metastasize to the liver from other organs.

The medical term for the most common type of primary liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma.

Who Is Contracting Hepatitis C?

About 75% of those infected with hepatitis C in the United States were born between 1945 and 1965.15,16

People in this age group have around five times greater risk of harboring the hepatitis C virus.16

While there are known risk factors, many have no identifiable reason that explains why they are infected. That’s why screening for the hepatitis C virus is so important.

Hepatitis C Drug Therapies

For decades, hepatitis C patients endured a six-month treatment using alpha-interferon, which caused brutal side effects with no guarantee the virus would be eliminated.17

When the anti-viral drug ribavirin was added to alpha-interferon, cure rates markedly improved.17

The good news today is that several hepatitis C drugs are available that are relatively non-toxic and have cure rates over 95%.

In certain types of cases, co-administration of ribavirin is still used.

Importance of Early Detection

The hepatitis C virus inflicts damage to liver cells that often leads to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

It’s a leading reason why more than 17,000 Americans are awaiting liver transplants today—and no one should think a liver transplant is easy.18

It is crucial for those infected with hepatitis C to eliminate the virus before irreversible liver damage occurs.

The scientific literature strongly supported ribavirin plus interferon as the best treatment for hepatitis C infections before 1998.19

The FDA disregarded these studies because the FDA despised the company (ICN Pharmaceuticals) that made ribavirin. The company’s sin was to “publicize” favorable results from ribavirin clinical trials showing remarkable efficacy.

The FDA hates when companies promote a drug before approval because it puts pressure on the FDA to approve it sooner.

The FDA would prefer to take their bureaucratic time in approving a new drug rather than capitulate to the pressure of dying Americans who might be cured by a therapy stuck in the FDA’s waiting room.

The bureaucratic suppression of ribavirin provides a real-world example of what’s wrong with today’s medical regulatory system.

Clinical studies showed that when ribavirin plus interferon-alpha were combined, hepatitis C eradication occurred 50%-100% more often than with interferon-alpha alone.20-23

The FDA preferred to punish the maker of ribavirin rather than save human lives.

Our Battle to Get Ribavirin Approved

Ribavirin is a broad-spectrum antiviral drug that was approved by virtually every country in the 1980s. It had been shown to significantly suppress hepatitis C infection when combined with interferon-alpha.22,23

We at Life Extension recognized the efficacy of ribavirin in 1983 and fought a monumental battle to force the FDA to approve it.

I made national media appearances attacking the FDA for not approving ribavirin even though we had no financial stake in it. Our mission was to spare the tens of thousands of Americans who were dying because the FDA would not allow them access to ribavirin.

Even after the FDA approved ribavirin, it was indicated for hepatitis patients who were naïve to the interferon treatment or who had to fail a grueling interferon regimen before they could try combination interferon + ribavirin.24

Today’s System Needs Radical Reform

Science is discovering new therapies to treat killer diseases, but a labyrinth of needless bureaucracy denies Americans access to these lifesaving medicines.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a bottleneck in a drug approval process that must be changed if we are to save our bodies from the ravages of aging and degenerative illness.

Ribavirin is one example of a lethal delay. It took us 12 years to get the FDA to approve this one drug.

In patients who failed interferon therapy, studies show that using the combination ribavirin + interferon-alpha was far more effective compared to treating hepatitis C with interferon-alpha alone.24

Blood Tests Identify Reversible Cancer Risks

Most people have annual blood tests to check for cardiovascular risk factors like total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides.

What few realize is that other blood tests such as fasting insulin, glucose, and C-reactive protein can indicate one’s future cancer risk.

Testing for hepatitis C is now highly recommended because it is over 95% curable, but liver cancer caused by this virus is not.

Those who procrastinate having comprehensive blood tests miss out on opportunities to correct risk factors before symptomatic onset of irreversible degenerative illnesses.

Lab Test Super Sale

Since our founding over 40 years ago, Life Extension® has urged its readers to have annual lab tests.

The numbers of lives saved by our recommendations are huge. This includes men diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer who are readily cured with today’s less side-effect-prone treatments.

The most popular blood test our supporters order each year is the comprehensive Male or Female Panel. We charge $299 for these tests that cost around $2,000 at commercial labs.

This represents an almost 90% savings.

Just once a year, we discount the prices of our lab tests, enabling readers to obtain the Male or Female Blood Test Panelsfor only $224.

This year we are advising most of our supporters to add a hepatitis C antibody test to ensure they are not infected with this virus that silently inflicts damage that can lead to cancer or liver failure.

The retail price of the hepatitis C test is $50, but we discount it down to $34 during the Lab Test Super Sale that lasts until July 11, 2022.

For most people, just one hepatitis C antibody test is what they need to ensure they are not silently infected.

To order a Male and/or Female Panel and other tests at the year’s lowest prices, call 1-800-208-3444 (24 hours) or log on to:

You can view the tests included in the Male or Female Panels on the page to the right.

For longer life,

William Faloon


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  4. Chen SL, Morgan TR. The natural history of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. Int J Med Sci. 2006;3(2):47-52.
  5. Dooley JS, Lok AS, Garcia-Tsao G, et al. Sherlock’s Diseases of the Liver and Biliary System. 2018.
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  12. Available at: Accessed February 2, 2022.
  13. Available at: Accessed February 8, 2021.
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  16. Available at: Accessed February 3, 2022.
  17. Chen CH, Yu ML. Evolution of interferon-based therapy for chronic hepatitis C. Hepat Res Treat. 2010;2010:140953.
  18. Available at: Accessed February 3, 2022.
  19. Schalm SW, Brouwer JT, Chemello L, et al. Interferon-ribavirin combination therapy for chronic hepatitis C. Dig Dis Sci. 1996 Dec;41(12 Suppl):131S-4S.
  20. Hezode C, Forestier N, Dusheiko G, et al. Telaprevir and peginterferon with or without ribavirin for chronic HCV infection. N Engl J Med. 2009 Apr 30;360(18):1839-50.
  21. Lai MY, Kao JH, Yang PM, et al. Long-term efficacy of ribavirin plus interferon alfa in the treatment of chronic hepatitis C. Gastroenterology. 1996 Nov;111(5):1307-12.
  22. McHutchison JG, Gordon SC, Schiff ER, et al. Interferon alfa-2b alone or in combination with ribavirin as initial treatment for chronic hepatitis C. Hepatitis Interventional Therapy Group. N Engl J Med. 1998 Nov 19;339(21):1485-92.
  23. Poynard T, Marcellin P, Lee SS, et al. Randomised trial of interferon alpha2b plus ribavirin for 48 weeks or for 24 weeks versus interferon alpha2b plus placebo for 48 weeks for treatment of chronic infection with hepatitis C virus. International Hepatitis Interventional Therapy Group (IHIT). Lancet. 1998 Oct 31;352(9138):1426-32.
  24. Available at: Accessed February 3, 2022.