Liver cancer is one of the most common types of cancer worldwide, resulting in 800,000 lives lost each year. What many people don’t know is that a staggering 80% of deaths are caused by viral hepatitis, a disease that has preventative vaccines (hepatitis B) and a curative treatment (hepatitis C), meaning that over 600,000 liver cancer deaths each year are avoidable.
If the majority of these deaths are entirely preventable, why does liver cancer continue to claim the lives of so many? And how do we begin to count that in terms of children who have lost a parent, people who have lost a friend, societies that have lost a great mind? The answer is simple; 95% of people living with viral hepatitis are unaware of this, and of those who do know their status, less than 1% have access to life-saving medical interventions.
Last year, at the 69th World Health Assembly, 194 countries adopted the World Health Organization’s first-ever Global Health Sector Strategy for viral hepatitis, which presents a clear commitment to eliminate hepatitis B and C by 2030. Combatting these cancer-causing viruses by 2030 is also a target of the Sustainable Development Goals. If these commitments are upheld by governments, we can greatly reduce the number of cancer deaths globally.
AASLD 2016: Hepatitis C–Screening for Liver Cancer
It is recommended that people who have cirrhosis should be screened for liver cancer every 6 months. It is known that curing hepatitis C greatly reduces the risk of developing liver cancer in people with cirrhosis, but disease progression and liver cancer can still occur. This is why it is important that people with cirrhosis are screened.
But what is the actual practice of screening patients for liver cancer? A study out of Stanford University found that the actual rate of liver cancer monitoring is alarming. Of 2,916 patients that should be screened every 6 months only 18.9% were screened every 6 months; 17.0% were every 6 to 12 months; 18.6% were every 12 to 24 months; 21.1% were screened every 24 months or over a longer period of time, and 24.5% patients were never screened. The people who were most frequently monitored were those who came into the clinic and those who had decompensated cirrhosis.
Not surprisingly, patients with less frequent screening were diagnosed with more severe liver disease that led to complications that included:
- Portal vein thrombosis (blockage of the vein that carries blood from the intestines to the liver). Portal vein thrombosis excludes people from obtaining a liver transplant.
- Patients were less likely to meet the Milan or University of California of San Francisco criteria for receiving a liver transplant
Alan Franciscus is the Executive Director of the Hepatitis C Support Project and Editor-in-Chief of the HCV Advocate
Read the entire January 2017 edition of the HCV Advocate newsletter, click here