Liver cancer incidence in Asia projected to rise by 80% in 2040


FILIPINOS with the risk factors for liver cancer, or hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), should get their livers checked at least twice a year, according to hepatology experts.  

This refers to hepatitis B or C patients, regular alcohol drinkers, and those who have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (liver fat build-up not caused by alcohol consumption).  

“HCC is the Philippines’ fourth leading cancer in terms of new cases but it’s the second leading cancer in terms of death,” said Dr. Wendell Z. Espinosa, the Hepatology Society of the Philippines’ vice-president, citing the Global Cancer Observatory’s 2020 study.  

“It’s estimated that, in 2040, all countries in Asia will have an 80% increase in incidence of HCC,” he said at a Jan. 17 webinar organized by the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP).  

Though Filipinos are notorious for avoiding going to the doctor, getting checked early on can be key in making sure poor liver health doesn’t end up being a cause of death.  

Those who have suffered from hepatitis B, those whose livers have become cirrhotic (scarred from long-term damage), and males over 40 years old or females over 50 years old with a family history of HCC are advised to undergo regular surveillance.  

This entails getting a liver ultrasound every six months, Dr. Espinosa said.  

Dr. Diana A. Payawal, president of PCP and chair of the hepatology committee at Cardinal Santos Medical Center, explained that Filipinos with fatty liver should already be careful with their diet and lifestyle.  

“Some subset of patients with fatty liver disease don’t have the usual progression from liver disease to cirrhosis to cancer. They jump from being patients with chronic liver disease to having HCC,” she warned.   

About 27 million Filipinos are obese and overweight, according to 2022 data from the Department of Science and Technology’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute. They are all susceptible to a fatty liver, said Dr. Espinosa.  

“Whether it’s refraining from binge drinking or cutting down one’s diet to keep weight in check, we need to increase public awareness about liver health for better cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment,” he said.  

Dr. Payawal reminded: “If you see your doctor early on, you can actually prevent progression of the cancer.” — Brontë H. Lacsamana