Screening May Help Boost Liver Cancer Survival Rates

WEDNESDAY, May 7, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Increased screening for liver tumors in people with cirrhosis -- scarring of the liver -- could help boost liver cancer survival rates, according to researchers.

A review of 47 studies that included more than 15,000 patients found the survival rate for those screened with ultrasound scans and blood tests was 51 percent, compared with a 28 percent rate for those who were not screened.

The research team, from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, also found that cirrhosis patients who were screened were more likely to receive treatment for their cancer rather than end-of-life care.

"Curative therapies, such as surgery or a liver transplant, are only available if patients are found to have liver cancer at an early stage. Unfortunately, right now, only a minority of patients' cancers are found at an early stage," study author Dr. Amit Singal, medical director of the liver tumor clinic at UT Southwestern's Harold C. Simmons Cancer Center, said in a medical center news release.

Many cases of liver cancer can be caught early with screening, Singal noted.

"We have a simple test, an abdominal ultrasound, which is painless and easy, but we found that less than 20 percent of at-risk people have the test done, largely due to providers failing to order it," Singal said.

He hopes the findings, published recently in the online journal PLoS Medicine, will help persuade more cirrhosis patients and their doctors that screening is a good idea.

Liver cancer screening is not currently recommended by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, partly because no clinical trial has been conducted to assess its effectiveness, Singal noted.

Liver cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death worldwide. People with cirrhosis are at increased risk, and 3 to 5 percent of them develop liver cancer every year.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about cirrhosis.

SOURCE: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, news release, May 5, 2014

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