By the end of 2022, nearly 42,00 new cases of primary liver cancer will be diagnosed in the United States. In fact, liver cancer incidence rates have more than tripled since 1980, marking an increased need for better detection and diagnosis.
We might not talk about liver cancer as much as we do breast or lung cancer, but it’s a real threat to millions of Americans – and we need to continue spreading awareness.
Early detection is especially critical in treating liver cancer. Patients need to know what factors put them at risk and what symptoms can indicate the presence of a tumor. The earlier cancer can be identified, the greater chance of survival and remission.
The State of Liver Cancer Today
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of liver cancer in America and throughout the world. It accounts for 90% of all new liver cancers diagnosed and is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths.
When looking at liver cancer survival rates, it’s important to keep in mind how those rates are determined.
– Localized: there is no sign that cancer has spread outside of the liver (35%).
– Regional: cancer has spread outside the liver to nearby structures or lymph nodes (12%).
– Distant: cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, such as the lung or bones (3%).
Studies show that, like all cancers, the sooner liver cancer is detected, the better the chance for survival. Survival rates are the highest in cases in which surgery or a liver transplant is involved, likely early on in treatment.
Liver cancer is the sixth most common cancer diagnosed today. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to detect liver cancer early, as the signs and symptoms do not typically appear until the later stages. Small tumors are also challenging to detect in a physical exam – most of the liver is obscured by the right rib cage. This can contribute to late detection and diagnosis.
Common Liver Cancer Risk Factors
Different cancers have different risk factors – some of which are environmental, others which are biological or hereditary, such as inherited liver diseases. A brief list of common risk factors includes:
– Poor diet and exercise
– Chronic infections from Hepatitis B (HBV) or Hepatitis C (HCV)
– Progressive, irreversible cirrhosis that causes scar tissue to develop
– Inherited liver diseases including hemochromatosis and Wilson’s Disease
– Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
– Exposure to aflatoxins
– Excessive alcohol consumption
What are some preemptive steps you can take to prevent liver cancer? Although some factors may be out of your control, there are a few things that you can do to help lower your risk:
– Eat a nutritious diet and maintain a healthy weight
– Exercise regularly
– Quit smoking
– Cut down or eliminate alcohol consumption
– Get a Hepatitis B vaccine
– Seek immediate treatment if you have an HBV or HCV infection
Liver Cancer Detection and Treatment
Liver cancer is most commonly detected once individuals begin experiencing symptoms and turn to a doctor. However, it can be detected earlier if the patient goes in for regular screenings and knows they are at risk.
The most commonly used tests and procedures include:
– Physical exam with your doctor
– Computed Tomography (CT) scan
– Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
– Alpha-fetoprotein blood (AFP) test
– Liver function tests (LFTs)
Leading businesses today are empowering people to check for liver cancer early with a simple blood test, and utilizing the power of big data and artificial intelligence to detect cancer at its earliest stages. For the majority of cancers, 90% survive if detected at an early stage.
Factors That Influence Liver Cancer Prognosis
Liver cancer prognosis depends on many different internal and external factors. The stage of cancer, how well the liver is functioning, age, and the patient’s general health are all key factors that affect prognosis. These factors also impact cancer’s response to treatment.
The survival rate does decrease if the liver cancer spreads to nearby organs or to the lymph nodes. If it has progressed to other parts of the body, the five-year survival rate typically lowers to around 3%. That’s another reason to check for liver cancer early and often, especially if you have pre-existing risk factors.
Unfortunately, HCC is often caught later than many other cancers, and that has resulted in a lower median survival rate of approximately 6 to 20 months. In the United States, the 2 year survival rate is less than 50% and the 5-year survival rate is only 10%. This indicates how crucial early detection is in the treatment of liver cancer.
Spreading Awareness Helps
Liver cancer awareness is a critical part of protecting people. Technology is changing how we view all cancers, including cancers of the liver. These innovations in early detection have the potential to save millions of lives and reduce cancer’s heavy cost and emotional burden on society. If you or a loved one are at risk or show symptoms associated with liver cancer, don’t wait, be proactive with your health and get tested. It can be as simple as a blood test.
About Justin Chen Li
Justin Chen Li is a founding member of Helio Genomics, an Irvine-based cancer diagnostics firm that’s one of the better-funded medtech companies in Orange County. He oversaw the company’s soft launch of its first product, HelioLiver, via a commercial partnership with $1.3 billion-valued Fulgent Genetics Inc. (Nasdaq: FLGT), led acquisitions that increased the company’s lab space, and closed an oversubscribed $35 million Series B1 funding round led by Fulgent.