The British Liver Trust has today launched Liver Cancer UK in response to rising cases of liver cancer across the country.
Liver cancer is the fastest-rising cause of cancer death in the UK. Over the past decade, liver cancer incidence rates have increased by almost half (45%) in the UK and the number of people dying from liver cancer has risen the fastest out of all the twenty most common types of cancer. There are now over 40% more deaths from liver cancer in both men and women than there were a decade ago.
The disease also has a high mortality rate. Every year over 6,000 people are diagnosed with liver cancer country-wide and just 13% of them will survive for five years or more. Survival rates depend on several factors, including the stage of the disease when it is diagnosed.
Many patients with liver cancer will only be diagnosed after an emergency admission to hospital or an emergency GP referral after symptoms have become severe and the cancer is more advanced. In England, 44.9% of liver cancers are diagnosed in an emergency setting, such as an A&E department.
Liver Cancer UK will provide much-needed information and support for patients affected by this devastating cancer and provide a focus for action to address this escalating situation. It will aim to improve the lives and outcomes of people affected by liver cancer and, ultimately, reduce cases of the disease.
The British Liver Trust will continue to work towards a world free of all liver diseases in addition, and as part of, its commitment to tackle liver cancer. Liver cancer is most common in people who already have liver disease, especially if they have cirrhosis (damage and scarring) of the liver which is most often caused by viral hepatitis, alcohol or obesity.
Pamela Healy OBE, Chief Executive of British Liver Trust, said: “Liver cancer patients have told us that they didn’t realise that the British Liver Trust was also here for liver cancer patients - they were often confused and worried and did not know where to turn for help. We’ve created new resources and a website with targeted information to make it easier for people to get the help they need. The new programme of activity is in response to the very worrying increase in cases across the UK. We’re also deeply concerned that survival rates for liver cancer remain so low. It’s a situation which needs to urgently change.
“Liver Cancer UK, as part of the British Liver Trust, will be dedicated to saving and improving the lives of people affected by liver cancer by raising awareness, providing support and campaigning for faster diagnosis and more research into treatments and cures.”
Fiona Bailey (age 48), a liver cancer patient from Hampshire, said: “When I was diagnosed with liver cancer, aged 45, my husband and I weren’t sure where to turn for support. At the time, I didn’t know anybody who had gone through it apart from my father-in-law who was diagnosed ten years earlier.
“I was diagnosed in time for surgery although I do continue to live with the ‘worry’ that it could come back. It’s brilliant that the British Liver Trust is launching Liver Cancer UK to provide dedicated information and support to patients like me and to increase awareness of liver cancer to ensure more people are diagnosed earlier. When you’ve been through something like this you just want to help other people.”
As well as the rising cases, late diagnosis of liver cancer continues to be a problem. This is partly due to the population’s low awareness of the symptoms of the disease. In 2021, the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce released data showing that only 5% of people in the UK were able to correctly identify all symptoms of liver cancer from a list presented to them.
Professor Stephen Ryder, Medical Advisor to the British Liver Trust and Consultant Hepatologist at NHS Nottingham University Hospital, added: “Lack of awareness of primary liver cancer and its causes is a common problem in the UK. The causes of liver disease and HCC, the most common primary liver cancer, are similar and interlinked. The good news is that there are things you can do to reduce the risks. Maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding drinking alcohol excessively and protecting yourself against viral hepatitis are the best defences against both liver disease and liver cancer.
“People can also develop cancer of the liver and gallbladder without the associated risk factors and should be concerned if they have any symptoms that are persistent and not normal for them. If you’re experiencing symptoms such as loss of appetite, nausea, a swollen stomach or yellowing of your skin and/or eyes, please don’t ignore them - make an appointment with your doctor to get them checked out.”
Symptoms of liver cancer include unintentional weight loss, loss of appetite, feeling very full after eating, feeling and being sick, pain or swelling in your abdomen, jaundice (yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes), itchy skin, feeling very tired and weak, fever with shivers, vomiting blood, dark black tarry poo or dark urine. However, the majority of these symptoms do not occur until liver cancer is at an advanced stage, so the British Liver Trust is calling for all people who are diagnosed with cirrhosis and who are most at risk to be regularly screened for liver cancer.
Visit Liver Cancer UK to find out more.