Researchers in Hong Kong have reported that screening patients with chronic hepatitis for liver cancer improves liver cancer survival rates and may improve chances for cure. The details of the study were published in the Annals for Surgery.
Liver cancer begins in the cells of the liver. Although many forms of cancer are declining in the United States, liver cancer rates are rising, primarily due to the large number of individuals diagnosed with hepatitis C (an infection of the liver that can lead to liver cancer). Unfortunately, liver cancer is rarely discovered early and often is difficult to treat with current treatment options, making the prognosis poor. In most cases treatment is designed to minimize the symptoms associated with liver cancer.
The current study evaluated the impact of screening for liver cancer among 1,366 patients diagnosed with hepatitis B or C. These patients were divided into two groups based on how they were diagnosed with liver cancer: those diagnosed through screening and those diagnosed with they developed symptoms. Survival rates between the two groups were compared. Further comparison evaluated the management and survival of these patients during two seven-year periods: 1991–1997and 1998–2004).
- Long-term survival was significantly better among the patients who had been part of the screening group compared with those in the symptomatic group. Average survival times were 61.9 months for the screening group versus 11.5 months for the symptomatic group.
- The number of screened patients who received curative treatment for liver cancer increased from 50% during 1991–1997 to 67% during 1998–2004. There was no change in treatment strategies among the symptomatic patients during either time period.
- Long-term survival also improved among members of the screening group who were treated during the years of 1998–2004 compared with those treated from 1991–1997. (This improvement was not observed among symptomatic patients.)
Researchers concluded that patients with hepatitis B or C who are diagnosed with liver cancer through screening methods have improved liver cancer survival rates and a better chance of a cure than those diagnosed as a result of symptoms.
Individuals with a hepatitis B or C infection may wish to consult their doctor about screening for liver cancer as early detection appears to improve outcomes.
Reference:*Chan, Albert C.,Poon, R.,Ng KKC, et al.Changing paradigm in the management of hepatocellular carcinoma improves the survival benefit of early detection by screening. Annals of Surgery*. 2008; 247:666-673.