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Liver Health Q1 2022

Liver cancer is an all-out battle

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Marko Korenjak

President, European Liver Patients’ Association (ELPA)

Dr Teresa Casanovas M.D.

Scientific Committee Leader, European Liver Patients’ Association (ELPA)

Over the past 20 years, there has been a 70% increase in liver cancer-related mortality in Europe.1 From 1997 to 2016, incidence and deaths from hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) have tripled in England.2 

Unfortunately, liver cancer is usually asymptomatic. When discovered, it could be too late. At an advanced stage, options are limited and connected to high costs. Every year €4 billion is spent in Europe on liver cancer.3 

Lowering liver cancer incidence

The European Liver Patients’ Association – ELPA has been working in the field of advocacy for liver patients for more than 17 years. What is striking us the most is that many liver diseases could lead to liver cancer and, if treated or avoided, can lower its incidence. Almost 50% of cases are preventable, 35% of deaths could be avoided through preventive measures and lifestyle choices.

Hepatitis B and C are responsible for up to 76% of liver cancer worldwide. It means that working on hepatitis reduction and elimination is also a way to fight cancer. Fatty liver, smoking and alcohol are among the scientifically recognised liver cancer risk factors and they can be tackled by adopting a healthy lifestyle and promoting health literacy.

Therefore, we are in front of three driving forces: prevention, early screening and early detection. These are crucial because they can ensure several options for treatment. 

However, ELPA can testify how advocating this at EU level is not easy.

Hepatitis B and C are responsible for up to 76% of liver cancer worldwide.

Lack of focus on early diagnosis

When Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan was first announced, we wanted to engage with it and flag up the lack of focus on risk-stratified screening and early diagnosis in liver cancer.

However, our submission to the consultation focused on communicable diseases (Hepatitis B and C) and the Plan was officially about a non-communicable condition. We reached out to our fellow patient advocates in Digestive Cancers Europe – DiCE and other organisations. Liver cancer is now mentioned in the plan ‒ at least on the prevention front in the chapter dedicated to infectious diseases.

We regret that there is currently no mention of screening. Still, we continued to work and together with DiCE, we also drew up a White Paper ‒ Liver Cancer: No Patient Left Behind in October 2021.

We call upon all stakeholders across Europe to work together to ensure that best practices are implemented at every stage of the patient pathway in each country, giving every patient the best possible opportunity for a positive outcome.

We believe we can achieve more and faster if we work together. 

[1] Data from the Lancet Commission on Liver Diseases Dec 2022.
[2] Data from the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI).
[3] Data from the Lancet Commission on Liver Diseases Dec 2022.

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