On World Cancer Day, 4th February 2022, the British Liver Trust, as part of the International Liver Cancer Network (ILCN), is demanding urgent action to support better prevention, screening and treatment of liver cancer, which is the fastest rising cause of cancer death in the UK and the third most frequent cause of cancer in the world.
Every year in the UK, over 6000 people are diagnosed with liver cancer and only 13% will survive for more than five years or more. Chronic liver disease is a catalyst for high rates of liver cancer as 90% of liver cancer arises in people with liver disease. Regular surveillance for HCC, the most common primary liver cancer in the UK, results in more tumours being detected at an early stage, when there are more treatments options available.
Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Policy and Communications at the British Liver Trust, says: “Unlike many cancers, which have seen death rates fall, largely due to improvements in detection, diagnosis and treatment, liver cancer has suffered from a chronic lack of funding and public awareness.
“We know that there are effective strategies that will help improve survival, including regular surveillance of people with chronic liver disease and faster approvals of innovative liver cancer treatments.”
These strategies are outlined in the International Liver Cancer Network’s whitepaper:
- Strengthen prevention measures to avoid new liver cancer cases.
Chronic underlying liver disease is a major risk factor for liver cancer. This includes conditions such as non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD), viral hepatitis and alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD). Early diagnosis and access to state-of-the-art management of liver disease is a core element of preventing liver cancer across the globe. Successful hepatitis B vaccination programmes also need to be continued.
- Implement better surveillance in at-risk populations aiming for early detection of liver cancer.
The earlier a patient is diagnosed with liver cancer, the better their prognosis, and new treatment options have significantly improved patient outcomes. Liver disease is unique when compared to other cancers because high-risk groups are well defined. This makes surveillance programmes highly cost-effective. Regular surveillance is recommended in people living with cirrhosis as they have the highest risk for developing liver cancer. In some countries, additional monitoring of hepatitis B patients and patients with non-alcohol related steatohepatitis (NASH) is suggested.
- Ensure access to state-of-the-art treatment for liver cancer patients.
Healthcare professionals across the globe have access to published clinical guidelines on the management and treatment of liver cancer. However, how well these are implemented depends on many factors such as health system structures and funding, the availability of diagnostic tools and treatment options, its affordability and local knowledge level. All this leads to significant differences in the quality of clinical management with the consequence of significantly different survival rates around the world.
Vanessa continues: “To reduce the burden of liver cancer, collaboration between patients, scientists, doctors, nurses, public health bodies and policymakers is vital. This is even more important today, as almost all countries worldwide have reported disruptions to health services since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are very proud to be working with members of the ICLN to call on governments around the world to provide a framework where patients can benefit from liver cancer prevention, screening and access to care.”
“Through our Sound the Alarm campaign, we’re calling for earlier diagnosis of liver disease and liver cancer, and better patient care in the UK.”