More than half of UK adults are unaware of many of the factors that can increase their risk of liver cancer, the British Liver Trust has revealed. Primary liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), is the fastest-growing cause of cancer death in the UK and due to late diagnosis, only 13% with the disease will survive for more than five years – 87% of people surveyed thought the figure was much higher than this.
Alarmingly, 9 in 10 people do not realise that gender is a risk factor despite men being twice as likely to be diagnosed with liver cancer in their lifetime. The survey of over 2,000 members of the public, conducted in October for Liver Cancer Awareness Month, also reveals that:
- More than half are unaware that having an underlying liver condition, being overweight or type 2 diabetes can increase their risk of liver cancer.
- Only 1 in 10 people would be ‘extremely concerned’ if they were told there was a problem with their liver.
- 42% of people with dietary issues, putting them at risk of liver disease, were not tested or told about liver disease by their GP.
Further reasons for late diagnosis of liver cancer were revealed in a separate liver cancer patient survey, commissioned by the British Liver Trust, which found that one in five patients waited more than six months to get a liver cancer diagnosis after their first visit to a GP. Some patients revealed that there were further delays in receiving treatment once they were diagnosed: ‘There was sometimes a long wait between tests and appointments so it was three months before my first treatment.’
Dr Abid Suddle, a consultant at Kings College Hospital, said: ‘Lack of awareness of primary liver cancer and its causes is a common problem in the UK which has sadly contributed to the tripling of liver cancer deaths between 1997 to 2016.
‘It is a complex and aggressive disease as most patients have an underlying liver condition so patients need to be treated for cancer and liver disease. Early diagnosis is vital to provide the best options for treatment.’
Pamela Healy, Chief Executive at the British Liver Trust, adds: ‘The lack of awareness among the public and delays experienced by patients should serve as a wake-up call to policy-makers and health providers that more needs to be done to improve early detection.’
The British Liver Trust is also making an urgent plea to the general public to look after their livers.
‘Prevention is always better than cure. More than 80% of people diagnosed with liver cancer have pre-existing liver disease. Our nurse-led helpline receives many calls from people who have been diagnosed with liver cancer as an emergency and their pre-existing liver disease has never been diagnosed. We need to ensure that every person who is diagnosed with cirrhosis is scanned for liver cancer every 6 months so that the cancer can be picked up early,’ continues Pamela. ‘Taking care of your liver to prevent damage is one the most effective ways you can reduce your risk of cirrhosis which can lead to liver cancer.’
The British Liver Trust’s Love Your Liver campaign focuses on three simple steps to Love Your Liver back to health:
- Drink within recommended limits and have three consecutive days off alcohol every week.
- Cut down on sugar, carbohydrates and fat, and take more exercise.
- Know the risk factors for viral hepatitis and get tested or vaccinated if at risk.