Silent killer with no early signs is biggest risk factor for liver cancer

Liver cancer: Expert discusses symptoms and treatments

A health problem described as a ‘silent killer’ because of its lack of early symptoms is one of the leading causes of liver cancer.

Pamela Healy, Chief Executive of the British Liver Trust, explained that liver disease is “the biggest risk factor for developing liver cancer”.

However, the expert warned that the condition is “a silent killer that usually has no symptoms”.

The NHS states that there are “many different types of liver disease”. 

The good news is that you can help prevent some of them by maintaining a healthy weight and staying within the recommended alcohol limits, if you drink.

READ MORE Doctor shares three ‘early’ signs of liver cancer that might be ‘hard’ to spot

The bad news is that these conditions can lay the harmful groundwork to liver cancer.

According to the health service, around 6,200 people are diagnosed with liver cancer each year, with this number set to rise even higher.

Healy explained that earlier detection of liver cancer means quicker treatment and a better chance of survival. 

The NHS has launched a major drive to catch more cases early, by sending out “roaming liver trucks” to test the most high-risk groups across the country for liver disease. 

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The roaming trucks have so far performed more than 26,500 hi-tech fibroscans and identified 2,204 people with cirrhosis or advanced fibrosis between June 2022 and September 2023.

Fibrosis describes any degree of scarring in the liver, while cirrhosis refers to the most severe and extensive pattern of scarring. 

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS Clinical Director for Cancer, said: “We are seeing liver cancers increasing year on year, but finding them early gives the best chance of successful treatment, which is why we have set up this initiative that is having such a positive impact and making it easier for people who are at a higher risk of liver cancer or other organ damage to get life-saving checks.

“Bringing liver scans into the heart of communities has already helped us find thousands of people with liver damage that needs further monitoring, investigation, or treatment; and in the future, we expect to help tens of thousands more patients receive a diagnosis sooner.

“Lives are saved when cancers are caught early and when more people are referred for tests, which is why the NHS has put so much effort into early diagnosis in recent years, as well as increasing access to testing.”

According to the health service, symptoms of liver cancer include the following:

  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting blood
  • Pain or swelling of the abdomen. 

The NHS urges anyone with symptoms like these to contact their GP “straight away”.

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