(BPT) – Liver cancer is one of the deadliest cancers in the world, causing more than 600,000 deaths each year. The number of Americans with liver cancer has been slowly but steadily rising for several decades with over 33,000 people expected to be diagnosed in 2014. The incidence is increasing due to the silent epidemic of hepatitis B and C, the rise in the number of people with morbid obesity and diabetes, and the persistence of alcoholic cirrhosis – all of which are risk factors for the disease.
Although the U.S. blood supply is screened for hepatitis B and C viruses, and an effective vaccine against hepatitis B is available along with new treatment options for hepatitis C, liver cancer rates continue to rise. One reason is that, although the number of new hepatitis C infections has dropped over the last two decades, approximately 3.2 million Americans are currently infected with chronic hepatitis C, with most unaware of their infection. About 5 percent of those patients will develop liver cancer over a 10- to 30-year period. Because of that delay, many of the liver cancer cases being diagnosed today are in individuals infected with chronic hepatitis C as early as the 1970s.
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. Unfortunately, symptoms often do not appear until the disease is an advanced stage, which is why regular screening and surveillance are critically important for patients living with liver disease. Regular checkups in those without risk factors are also important as anyone can develop liver cancer.
“Patients often do not experience symptoms of liver cancer until it’s already progressed to an advanced stage so it’s important for those at risk to be screened,” says Dr. Ghassan Abou-Alfa, 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.
Diagnosing liver cancer early is still key as a patient’s chance of survival nearly doubles if the disease is caught early. Speak with your doctor if you have any risk factors for liver cancer and visit www.liverfoundation.org for more information.
This article is brought to you by the American Liver Foundation, Bayer Healthcare and Onyx Pharmaceuticals, an Amgen subsidiary.