According to media headlines, a recent study apparently found that cancers are mainly caused by “bad luck.” But are the headlines accurate? And if so, do we just cross our fingers and hope for the best?
You’ve probably seen the headlines: “Two-Thirds of Cancer Cases Due to Bad Luck!” They are referring to the recent study findings reported by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
Such headlines imply that most cancers cannot be prevented, and that environmental and lifestyle issues are unimportant. But that is not what the study authors are claiming. And it certainly isn’t the case for liver cancer.
Not surprisingly, the misleading headlines prompted swift criticism of the study from the World Health Organization and others. In response, the study authors clarified what their study did show and what the implications are for cancer prevention.
What Can We Do About Liver Cancer?
They emphasized that all cancers are caused by a combination of random gene mutations (bad luck) that we can’t control, as well as the environment, lifestyles, and heredity.
So, there isn’t one single factor, but rather many factors, that contribute to cancer. Each of these factors can be modified to varying degrees to prevent cancer and cancer-related deaths.
We can’t do much about bad luck or heredity, the study authors state, but we can eliminate environmental risk factors and change lifestyles. This is known as primary prevention, and there are several examples of primary prevention in liver cancer.
Hepatitis B is preventable through the hepatitis B vaccine, hailed as the world’s first anti-cancer vaccine because it has been shown to significantly reduce the rate of liver cancer . And effective antiviral treatments can keep the virus under control and prevent progression to liver cancer.
A hepatitis C vaccine is not yet available, but hepatitis C is now curable! Cirrhosis (liver scarring) related to fatty liver disease or heavy alcohol use can be modified or prevented through lifestyle changes.
Another way to prevent cancer-related deaths is through early detection and treatment, while the cancer is still curable. This is called secondary prevention.
Screening and Early Detection Save Lives!
Screening and surveillance (regular monitoring) for liver cancer help detect the cancer early, before symptoms occur and while the tumor is small and can be surgically removed. This greatly increases the survival rate.
The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases recommends that men with hepatitis B should start screening and regular monitoring at age 40 years, and women at age 50. Monitoring should be done at 6-month intervals. But some high-risk groups could benefit from earlier and more frequent monitoring and testing.
As with all diseases, there is an element of luck – and bad luck- with liver cancer. But there are also many modifiable risk factors. We don’t have to just cross our fingers and hope for the best.
We can take action against liver cancer!