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September is Liver Cancer Awareness Month
  The Manilla Bulletin Online
SEPTEMBER has been declared Liver Cancer month to raise public consciousness about this illness that has an unusually high incidence in our country. Liver cancer is only the eighth most common form of cancer worldwide, but in the Philippines, Department of Health (DoH) and Philippine Cancer Society statistics show that it is the third most common form of cancer among men and sixth among women.
Liver cancer is one of the deadliest of all cancers. Most patients die within a year of diagnosis. Without treatment, the five-year survival rate from the disease is less than 5 percent, but if the cancer is diagnosed early and treated aggressively, the five-year survival rate is about 35 percent.
The most important risk factor associated with liver cancer is cirrhosis, a condition that precedes 80 percent of all liver cancers. The most common cause of cirrhosis is chronic hepatitis B, a condition that afflicts about 10-12 percent of all Filipinos. Chronic Hepatitis B is the main reason liver cancer incidence in the Philippines is high. Other possible causes of cirrhosis are hepatitis C infection and alcoholism.
Aside from cirrhosis, the other important risk factors associated with liver cancer are certain toxic substances and chemicals, such as aflatoxin and vinyl chloride which is used in certain industries. Aflatoxin is produced by certain species of fungi that grow in poorly harvested, stored, processed, and handled foodstuff peanuts, corn, rice, dried fruit, tree nuts, spices, crude vegetable oils, cocoa beans, and copra, as well as milk and milk products from cattle that have consumed contaminated feed. In the Philippines, the high temperature and relative humidity that prevails throughout the year favors the growth of aflatoxin.
Usually, liver cancer presents no symptoms until the tumor has already spread and is in advanced stage. The most common initial symptoms of the disease are abdominal pain and enlargement, feeling of fullness, loss of appetite, weight loss, weakness, and occasionally, vomiting and yellowing (jaundice). There is a vast array of treatment methods for liver. The stage of disease and the availability of facilities and expertise dictate, to a large extent, which treatment method is employed.
The outlook for liver cancer remains poor especially if it is detected late, but the disease is preventable because the risk factors associated with it have already been identified. Vaccination for hepatitis B, avoidance of alcohol, and proper storage of foodstuff are measures that can be taken to significantly reduce the risk of developing the cancer.
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