Liver cancer ranks as the fifth most common cancer and has been the third leading cause of cancer death in Hong Kong for years. However, there are still many misconceptions about liver cancer, which can easily affect the process of treatment and recovery.
Dr. Ka Wing Ma, general surgery consultant and clinical director at the Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Diagnostic and Treatment Centre (HPDTC) at Hong Kong Adventist Hospital (HKAP), Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, pointed out that in Hong Kong and East Asia, primary liver cancer is mostly induced by chronic hepatitis B. According to the clinical data of the HPDTC at HKAP, more than 90% of liver cancer cases had hepatitis B virus in their bodies. Other common risk factors for liver cancer include chronic hepatitis C, type 2 diabetes, smoking, obesity, and a history of liver cancer in the family. Excessive alcohol consumption is just one of the high-risk factors.
Can You Have Cancer Without Symptoms?
According to Ma, early clinical tumours less than 1.5 inches (5 centimetres) in size are usually asymptomatic and are usually found during medical examinations. In addition, as the liver does not contain any nerves that sense pain, abdominal pain is felt only when the tumour is large enough to push against the liver membrane.
The hepatitis B virus is a DNA virus that integrates into the body’s genome and replicates in liver cells until it fills the entire liver, which can escalate to liver cancer without the patient experiencing hepatitis or cirrhosis, conditions that cause superficial symptoms.
Why Is Liver Cancer So Difficult to Treat?
Liver resection represented first-line treatment in patients with early tumours and preserved liver function, which results in a clinical cure rate of nearly 80%. According to the data from the HPDTC at HKAP, nearly 70% of tumour cases can be surgically removed and cured due to early detection. Some postoperative treatments can speed up the recovery process and help patients resume their normal lives. The postoperative treatment includes control of the hepatitis B virus, the arrangement of interventional therapy, and immunotherapy.
However, if the patient is too weak or the tumour is not suitable for resection, radiofrequency or microwave ablation can be used to destroy the cancer cells with heat. Many studies have found that if the tumour is less than 1.2 inches in size (2 to 3 centimetres), ablation can be as effective as tumour removal, but the actual method to be used depends on the individual patient’s situation.
How to Prevent Liver Cancer?
Hepatitis B carriers are required to undergo semiannual check-ups, including blood tests for liver function, liver cancer index, and liver ultrasound. Hepatitis B patients are required to receive antiviral medication as directed by their doctors, and are also required to undergo semiannual check-ups. Liver cancer patients are required to continue to receive hepatitis B medication after surgery to control the disease and reduce the chance of recurrence.
In terms of daily life, apart from doing more exercise, people should avoid oily food that causes severe fatty liver, alcohol, and unknown Chinese medicines.
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