LIVER cancer deaths have soared by 50 per cent due to late diagnosis, research shows.
Numbers have tripled in just two decades – with a quarter of cases of the disease linked to obesity.
And a fifth of tumours were triggered by smoking.
A Cancer Research UK study shows 5,700 Brits died of liver cancer in 2017 – up 78 per cent from the 3,200 fatalities a decade earlier.
The charity claims half these cases could have been prevented through earlier diagnosis.
CRUK’s liver cancer expert, Professor Helen Reeves at Newcastle University, said: “Unfortunately, progress in treating liver cancer has been painfully slow and we desperately need more options for patients.
Progress in treating liver cancer has been painfully slow and we desperately need more options for patients
Professor Helen Reeves at Newcastle University
“Another problem is the rise in the number of people being diagnosed, which has meant we are losing more people to this disease than ever before.
“Rising levels of obesity and associated conditions like diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease have likely had a big role in this.”
The findings come as separate Public Health England data shows death rates from the most common form of the disease have tripled in 19 years.
Among men in England, there were 1.93 deaths per 100,000 from hepatocellular carcinoma in 1997, but by 2016 this had increased to 5.97.
And among women, death rates went from 0.51 to 1.4 per 100,000 over two decades.
Presenting the data at the NCRI Cancer Conference [pls keep] in Glasgow, Dr Anya Burton from PHE, said: “The incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma in England is increasing rapidly – it has tripled in the past 20 years.
“Our findings highlight the urgent need to address prevention strategies for both liver disease generally and hepatocellular carcinoma specifically.”
Signs of liver cancer
Liver cancer is one of the hardest forms of the disease to tackle, with five-year survival as low as six per cent.
It is difficult to treat mainly because it can be hard to spot early, as it often does not cause symptoms until it has progressed.
However, there are some more common symptoms which you may notice, these include:
- Fatigue (tiredness) and weakness
- A general feeling of poor health
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling sick (nausea) and vomiting
- Unexpected loss of weight
- Pain or discomfort over the liver area (place your right hand over the lower right hand side of your ribs and it will just about cover the area of your liver)
- Itchy skin
- Fine blood vessels visible on the skin in a radial pattern resembling the legs of a spider (known as spider naevi)
- Enlarged and tender liver (you may feel tender below your right ribs)
- Dark urine/grey pale stools (faeces)
- Loss of s*x drive (libido).
If you notice these symptoms seek medical advice
- Skin and eyes turning yellow (jaundice) – often the first and sometimes the only sign of liver disease
- Swelling of the abdomen, which can be due to the growing cancer itself or a build up of fluid within the abdomen (ascites)
- Fever with high temperatures and shivers
- Vomiting blood
- Dark black tarry stools (faeces)
Despite this, most cases of liver cancer are picked up after patients end up in A&E when their disease has already spread.
More on cancer
Cancer Research UK chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “It’s worrying to see deaths from liver cancer increasing at such an alarming rate.
“There are things we can all do to make a difference to our cancer risk.
“Keeping a healthy weight, not smoking, and drinking less alcohol will all help lower your chance of developing liver cancer.”