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Data at the Hong Kong Cancer Registry shows that liver cancer ranks 5th in the most common cancers and 3rd in fatal cancers in Hong Kong1. It is hard to diagnose liver cancer during the early stages because symptoms do not appear until it is in its later stages, i.e. stage III and IV. This is when the tumor is growing and cancer cells are spreading, developing noticeable abdominal pain, bloating and swollen feet. By this time, the prime treatment period may have already passed.
There are numerous causes to liver cancer and Hepatitis B is one of the major causes. Many Hongkongers are Hepatitis B carriers who have higher risks in getting liver cancer than ordinary people. This is why doctors suggest regular screening for liver cancer, including alpha-fetoprotein tests and ultrasound scans, as the earlier cancer cells are detected, the greater the chances of recovery.
In general, suspected patients would take liver tests, ultrasound scans and computed tomography to examine for liver cancer, locate the tumor(s), find out the size and number, and see if it has spread to or affected nearby tissues. In case the tumor(s) is too large or in great number, surgery or external beam radiotherapy alone may not be the ideal solution. Recently, the medical industry is heading in a new direction for better results which includes interventional radiology with targeted therapy.
To illustrate how the new approach could bring in new solutions, AXA has worked with the Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital to produce a video based on a real case. It is the story of a family man who had liver cancer. As the tumor was too large and cancer cells were spreading, the hospital formulated a 2-phase treatment combining surgical and medical solution for him, instead of using traditional chemotherapy or surgery alone
In phase 1, the division of oncology applied interventional radiology, i.e. injecting high-energy radioisotopes to the liver by connecting a tube to the hepatic artery. This not only attacked the tumors directly but also reduced the side-effects on other organs. The patient also received targeted therapy simultaneously to double up the power in shrinking the tumors and suppressing their activeness.
In phase 2 when the tumors have shrunk, they were surgically removed. The patient could return to his normal life with his loved ones after only months of treatment!
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1. Overview of cancer statistics in 2017, Hong Kong Cancer Registry, Hospital Authority: