October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month: Are You at Risk?
Liver cancer strikes 33,000 Americans annually, according to the American Cancer Society and it is expected that 23,000 Americans will die as a result of liver cancer this year.
The incidence of liver cancer has been steadily rising in the U.S. secondary to the increased incidence of hepatitis C and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). In the case of hepatitis C, it takes 10 to 30 years to develop liver cancer in about 5% of infected patients. Thus, the cases of liver cancer cases diagnosed today are the ones who were infected with hepatitis back in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The number of cases of liver cancer will increase due to NAFLD, which occurs mainly in morbidly obese and diabetic patients. As obesity and diabetes are on the rise, doctors expect to see more liver cancer cases due to these risk factors. Other main risk factors include hepatitis B, especially in communities with high numbers of southeast Asian immigrants, and alcohol.
The liver is also the site where other cancers spread (called liver metastases). Colorectal cancer, breast cancer, bile duct cancers and pancreatic cancer are some of the cancers that, in their advanced stages, can spread to the liver.
If caught early, a diagnosis of liver cancer need not be a death sentence. Regular screening in high-risk individuals can detect liver cancer in its earliest stages when treatment can be most effective.
“There have been advances in treatment that have allowed patients better outcomes and an improved quality of life,” says Ghassan Abou-Alfa, MD, medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, chair of the Hepatobiliary Task Force of the National Cancer Institute and a member of the American Liver Foundation’s national medical advisory committee. “During the last decade, survival times in patients with metastatic liver cancer have nearly doubled.”
Unfortunately, symptoms of liver cancer often do not appear until the disease is in a more advanced stage, which is why regular screening is so important in patients living with liver disease. Regular checkups in those without risk factors are also important as anyone can develop liver cancer.
Symptoms of liver cancer include loss of appetite, weight loss, feeling of fullness, nausea or vomiting, pain in the abdomen or near the right shoulder blade and yellowing of the skin.
Treatments for liver cancer include: liver resection and transplants; radiofrequency ablation; bland and chemoembolization; radio-embolization; and sorafenib, an oral agent that has shown to improve survival in patients with advanced liver cancer.
There are a number of research efforts underway and you can enhance these efforts by participating in clinical trials.
- You may gain access to potential treatments before they are widely available.
- You will receive expert medical care at some of the nation’s leading academic institutions.
- You will help advance important medical research on liver disease.
To learn more about clinical trials, visit https://www.cancer.gov/sites/ocnr/cancer-nanotechnology/clinical-trials.
For more information about liver cancer, visit the Disease Information Center on the American Liver Foundation’s website or call its National Helpline – 1-800-GO-LIVER (1-800-465-4837). Information can also be found on Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s website http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/adult/liver.
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