Prevention and Early Diagnosis Essential to Reduce India’s Burden of Liver Cancer

  • Incidence rising among younger population due to lifestyle changes
  • Karnataka has also seen an increase over the last few years
  • About four times as many men get liver cancer as women
  • 78% of all liver cancer patients die within five years

BENGALURU / April 18, 2024: Vaccination against Hepatitis B, along with aggressive treatment of Hepatitis C, diabetes and obesity, can prevent majority of liver cancers in India. These measures, along with early detection, can drastically improve mortality and morbidity associated with the disease. This was said by Dr. Radheshyam Naik, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Hematologist & Bone Marrow Transplant Physician with Sammprada Hospital, Bengaluru, ahead of the World Liver Day.

Dr. Radheshyam Naik said: “Preventing measures and early detection are important, considering the rising incidence of liver cancer in the country every year. Punjab, Haryana and North-East India have reported higher incidences. Karnataka has also seen an increase over the last few years. Rural areas may also have increased burden of viral hepatitis-related liver cancers. The rise in incidence is majorly being driven by factors like obesity, diabetes, alcohol consumption, smoking, hepatitis B and Hepatitis C infections, and aflatoxin exposure from contaminated food.”

Talking about some interesting trends in liver cancer over the years in India, Dr. Radheshyam Naik said: “Incidence of Liver cancer related to infections like Hepatitis B and C seeing a decrease. On the other hand, cases due to lifestyle-related causes like obesity, smoking and alcohol are increasing. Unhealthy diet leading to diabetes and metabolic syndrome is also a prominent cause of liver cancer now. The disease has historically been more common among older adults, but there is now a trend of increasing incidence among the younger age groups, possibly due to changing lifestyle.”

Dr. Radheshyam Naik said that liver cancer is currently among the 7th or 8th most common cancers in the country. “The age of presentation of the disease is usually between 40 to 70. About four times as many men get liver cancer as women. For men, the incidence ranges from 0.7 to 7.5 per 100,000 population per year, compared to only 0.2 to 2.2 for women, which is a ratio of 4:1. The mortality rate in men is also higher at 6.8 per 100,000 population, compared to 5.1 for women,” he added.

Dr. Radheshyam Naik said: “The five-year relative survival rate in localised liver cancer is 37%. In cases of regional cancer (liver and lymph nodes) the figure is 14% at 5 years. For distant metastatic liver cancer, it is only 4%. Overall, for all stages combined, the survival rate is 22%. This means that 78% of all liver cancer patients die within 5 years, while 60% of them die within one year. Hence, the prognosis of liver cancer is quite bad.”

The doctor said that early diagnosis of liver cancer makes treatment easier and can prolong survival in majority of patients. Imaging like ultrasound, CT Scan ,MRI, Tumor markers like alpha feto protein may help in early detection, diagnosis and follow up can detect early liver cancers in many cases. Routine tests like LFT and fibroscan can help assess liver health.

Pain in the upper abdomen, abdominal swelling, and signs of liver failure such as jaundice, tiredness, anemia and low platelet are some of the symptoms of liver cancer.

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