While liver cancer cases continue to climb in the U.S., so has the medical community’s ability to care for hepatitis B patients affected by liver cancer. Here are some updates and reminders to help you talk to your doctor and get the best care possible.
What causes your cancer matters: Doctors often use a one-size-fits-all approach to treating liver cancer, no matter if it’s caused by hepatitis B or C. However, a new study suggests doctors should consider treating their hepatitis B cancer patients earlier and more aggressively than hepatitis C patients.
Researchers monitored liver cancer in hundreds of hepatitis B and C patients over nine years and found hepatitis B patients developed cancer at a younger age and had more aggressive cancer. Hepatitis B patients:
- Had higher levels of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), a blood test that indicates the presence of tumors
- Had liver cancer tumors that were larger and spread more quickly
- And often had portal thrombosis–a blockage in the vessel that delivers blood to the liver.
Antivirals help prevent cancer recurrence after surgery and transplants: Treating liver cancer patients with antivirals after their tumors have been removed or after liver transplantation clearly helps hepatitis B patients live longer.
A growing number of studies show that treating transplant patients with antiviral drugs, which stop the virus from replicating, is improving survival because it stops the infection from returning. Treating patients with antivirals after their tumors are surgically removed or through chemoembolization, which blocks the blood supply to tumors, also extends patients’ lives.
Treating depression is vital: Depression is very common in cancer patients and studies show 75 percent of cancer patients have untreated depression. While oncologists have not been very effective in referring patients to mental health providers, times are changing and linking patients to care and treatment for depression is now a priority. But if your doctor doesn’t bring it up, ask about getting help. People affected by cancer face tremendous stress and counseling is available. For more information about support services for people affected by liver cancer click here.
Keep up the coffee: A growing number of studies find that up to three cups of coffee a day helps protect the liver and slow liver damage. Coffee has some unique compounds that appear to protect the liver more than tea or caffeine-laden soft drinks. Talk to your doctor and if coffee is your morning wake-up drink, keep the java coming!