For the past three weeks I have been in Florida helping my father and stepmother. Both recently received serious cancer diagnoses. On Friday, many TV stations broadcasted Stand Up To Cancer (StandUp2Cancer.org). The program was well-done, inspirational, and raised money for cancer research. This is great for folks like my parents, but something was missing…something big…liver cancer. The show included a passing reference by a man with prostate cancer mentioning that his brother had died from liver cancer; there is no mention of liver cancer on the website.
Although death rates from all cancers are going down in the United States, the incidence of liver cancer and death rates from it are going up. In Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2012, Ryerson and colleagues state, “Worldwide, liver cancer is the fifth most common cancer among men, the ninth most common cancer among women, and the second most common cause of cancer death for men and women combined.”
About 20 percent of liver cancers are caused by hepatitis C. Death rates from hep C-related liver cancers were highest among people born during 1945 through 1965. Hepatitis B also raises the risk for liver cancer. Lifestyle can increase risk of liver cancer; obesity, type 2 diabetes, and drinking too much alcohol can cause cirrhosis, which increases chances of developing liver cancer.
Stand Up to Cancer doesn’t have a liver cancer dream team. It doesn’t mention testing for hepatitis C as a way to screen for or prevent cancer. Please contact Stand Up to Cancer and ask them to take a stand on liver cancer. Tweet to @SU2C. Find them on Facebook.
Here are ways to reduce your risk for liver cancer:
- If you haven’t had hepatitis B or been immunized against it, get vaccinated.
- If you have any risk factors for hepatitis C, get tested and then treated if you have it.
- Don’t drink too much alcohol.
- Maintain a healthy weight and prevent diabetes.
- Eat a low-fat, high nutrition diet.
- Aim for regular physical activity.
- If you have cirrhosis or other risk factors for liver cancer, talk to your medical provider and ask about regular cancer surveillance.
Fortunately, new hepatitis C treatments may help to reverse this trend, assuming that people can get tested and treated before hepatitis C has progressed to cirrhosis. However, screening rates are still low, and the majority of those with hep C don’t know that they have it. It’s time we start thinking in terms of hepatitis C tests as liver cancer screening tools. Surely a $20 to $30 test is far cheaper than a colonoscopy, something that doctors do quite routinely.
It’s time we stand up to liver cancer.