Covid-19 and lack of awareness will lead to surge in liver cancer deaths

Posted on: 22nd October 2020

Almost half of Brits (47%) would delay making an appointment with their doctor during the pandemic if they had loss of appetite, nausea or a swollen stomach – all symptoms of liver cancer, a survey commissioned by the British Liver Trust reveals.

The survey by YouGov during October - Liver Cancer Awareness Month - also showed that although most people know there is a link between alcohol and liver cancer, only half know that there is a link between the disease and viral hepatitis (49%) or being overweight (50%) - two other common causes of liver cancer in the UK.

Lack of awareness

Dr Abid Suddle, Medical Advisor to the British Liver Trust, says: “These findings once again highlight a worrying lack of awareness and common misconceptions about liver cancer. Unless we take action now, this will lead to a surge in liver cancer deaths in the future.”

Liver cancer has one of the highest mortality rates in the UK which is caused by a number of factors, one of these being that liver cancer often has no symptoms in the early stages. By the time symptoms appear, the disease has progressed and treatment options are limited.

The number of people dying from primary liver cancer is expected to rise by 58% between 2014 to 2035, to 16 deaths per 100,000 people by 2035[1]. This is in stark contrast to most other cancers, which are expected to see mortality rates fall. The vast majority of Brits surveyed (94%) did not expect liver cancer deaths to get a lot worse.

Dr Suddle says: “People can be at risk of liver cancer even if they don’t drink, 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 the whites of the eyes, please don’t ignore them - make an appointment with your doctor to get them checked out.”

The pandemic has also been a very worrying time for people with liver cancer. Some people with liver cancer are more at risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract COVID-19, for example, if they have an underlying chronic liver condition or they are undergoing active chemotherapy.

Rebecca West, Liver Nurse Information Manager at the British Liver Trust, says: “Feedback from the British Liver Trust’s nurse-led helpline suggests that some liver cancer patients have been unable to access the care they desperately need during the pandemic. We’ve received calls about concerns linked to lack of timely and appropriate monitoring, and also lack of face-to-face consultations with consultants and specialist nurses.”

Liver cancer factsheet

To help, the charity has launched a new factsheet for people with primary liver cancer and their loved ones, which outlines the care that all liver cancer patients should expect to receive and arms them with useful questions to ask their doctor, from tests and diagnosis, through to treatment and beyond.

Pamela Healy OBE, Chief Executive of the British Liver Trust, says: “It is extremely important that people with liver cancer continue to receive the care and support they need to help them stay safe and well. If you are told to go to hospital for a routine appointment, then the NHS has measures in place to make sure that it is safe for you to do so.

“Make sure you talk to your healthcare team about extra precautions you may need to take to look after yourself, and ask them any questions you need to about how your treatment may be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.”