Liver Cancer – a preventable disease on the rise

Symptoms of liver cancer

October is Liver cancer awareness month. Liver cancer, one of the common cancers in the world, is emerging as one of the fastest spreading cancers in India, contributed by high incidence of hepatitis. India sees about 3 to 5 liver cancer cases per 1 lakh population, about 50,000 cases per year. However, many experts fear that these figures are grossly under-reported in our country.

Explaining about the risk factors of liver cancer, Dr. Suneel Kaushik, Surgical Oncologist at Balco Medical Centre, said, “Besides the main culprits Hepatitis B and C infections, alcohol abuse, Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and obesity are major risk factors for liver cancer. Most often, these factors result in liver damage with resulting cirrhosis that increases the risk of developing cancer. Most notable is that a large proportion of this is preventable, which can occur at two levels. First is to avoid alcohol abuse, prevent Hepatitis B and C infections and maintain a healthy life style. Hepatitis infections are acquired from infected individuals via blood and other secretions, by sharing of needles among drug addicts and by sexual route. The spread of Hepatitis B can be prevented by vaccination of all newborns and non-infected individuals. A significant number of Hepatitis C infections can be treated when detected in time. Second level of prevention is to screen individuals at risk having cirrhosis of liver with sonography of abdomen and blood tests called Alpha feto protein (AFP) to detect the disease early and offer effective treatment.”

Unfortunately, like many other cancers, liver cancer may go undetected until very late stages. It is often brought to attention by tests performed for unrelated symptoms. The best possible treatment for liver cancer is surgery with removal of a portion of the liver called a hepatectomy. Traditionally, a surgery considered high risk is now performed with lesser complications with improvement in surgical techniques and newer equipment that facilitate division of liver with hardly any bleeding. The tremendous reserve, due to which the liver function remains normal even if up to 70% of liver is removed and the power of regeneration due to which it recovers its original weight in a few weeks, helps in good recovery of patients. Among those effected with cirrhosis, liver transplantation offers cure for both cirrhosis and liver cancer in selected patients.

At Balco Medical Centre, newer advances are providing a hope to those with advanced disease, where a curative treatment may not be possible. In patients, where the liver surgery is not feasible due to medical conditions or advanced disease, alternative techniques like tumor ablation with radiofrequency waves or alcohol, delivery of drugs through liver arteries (trans-arterial techniques), targeted therapies, etc. offer relief to a significant proportion of patients and sometimes cure. Further advances in medical knowledge will improve the armamentarium with which the deadly disease can be treated, till then mantra to maintain a healthy liver is healthy living, vaccination and screening.

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