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Liver cancer rates triple

Hepatitis C, alcohol and obesity have caused liver cancer cases in the UK to spike

The number of liver cancer cases in the UK has tripled in the last 30 years, according to figures from Cancer Research UK.

Many patients with cancer often present with secondaries in the liver; however, statistics from the charity suggest a significant rise in the number of liver cancer cases where the organ is the primary tumour site.

Cases of cancer in the UK have increased in recent decades as diagnoses improve and people live longer. Experts believe that the increase in liver cancer can be attributed to hepatitis C infections, as well as alcohol and obesity. Primary tumours in the liver often develop as a result of cirrhosis, a consequence of chronic liver disease caused by excessive alcohol use, obesity and hepatitis B and C.

"These alarming figures on the increasing incidence of liver cancer are further evidence of the epidemic of liver damage caused by alcohol, obesity and viral hepatitis," said Imogen Shillito, director of information and education, at the British Liver Trust.

"We know liver cancer is caused by years of liver damage, often from infection with hepatitis B and C, or regular excessive drinking. But there are many interventions that can prevent liver cancer. In particular, if people at risk are screened for hepatitis B or C and are offered effective treatment before liver damage has set in, their risk of liver cancer drops dramatically. We want to see the NHS diagnosing and treating liver disease at an early stage to prevent liver cancer developing and save lives," she said.

The five-year survival rate for primary liver cancer is poor, with 8 out of 10 patients dying within a year of diagnosis. "We need an integrated strategy to prevent liver disease, and diagnose and treat it effectively before patients progress to develop liver cancer," said Shillito.

The British Liver Trust has called for dedicated action across the NHS to curb the rising number of liver cancer cases in the UK. Cancer Research UK is supporting a number of trials to improve treatment of the disease.

20th August 2009

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