About 20 percent of Taiwanese with liver cancer also have a diagnosis of fatty liver disease or alcoholic liver disease, Taiwan Cancer Registry data showed.
One in four people worldwide have fatty liver disease, while the incidence rate in Taiwan ranges between 11.4 percent and 41 percent, reports released by the National Health Research Institutes showed.
The main causes of fatty liver disease are high cholesterol and ineffective diabetes self-management, which are often related to being overweight and drinking too much alcohol.
The WHO defines being overweight as a chronic condition, and people who are overweight for a long period are more likely to be diagnosed with fatty liver disease and to experience diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, gout and osteoarthritis — and at almost twice the frequency of those with a healthy weight, Health Promotion Administration Cancer Prevention and Control Division Director Lin Li-ju (林莉茹) said on Friday.
Fatty liver disease results when excess fat causes inflammation in the liver, said Hsu Shu-ting (許舒淳), a doctor in the Gastroenterology and Hepatology Section of Cathay General Hospital in Taipei.
Although it does not sound like a serious condition, persistent inflammation increases a person’s chance of developing cirrhosis or liver cancer by 10 to 20 percent, so it should not be ignored, she said.
“People living a modern lifestyle are busy at work and lack exercise. They often eat out and take sugary drinks with their meals, which significantly increases their likelihood of developing liver cancer,” Hsu said.
“Drinking too much alcohol will likely lead to alcoholic liver disease, which puts people at a higher risk for cirrhosis and liver cancer — at a much greater incidence rate than those with fatty liver disease,” she said.
A fatty liver does not have obvious signs — those with a fatty liver who experience pain or fatigue might already have severe inflammation or a tumor — so regular medical examinations are needed, she added.
“Most people should have an annual checkup, but someone with advanced fatty liver disease and severe inflammation should go every six months,” Hsu said.
No drugs effectively treat fatty liver disease, Lin said.
Those with the condition should engage in at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week, she said, adding that aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce the fat level in the liver.
“It is important to have a balanced diet — to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grain and multigrain foods, while avoiding sweets, refined foods, foods high in salt and oil, and processed foods,” Lin said, adding that a fatty liver and fibrosis of the liver greatly improve from a 5 to 10 percent reduction in body weight.
In 2017, 11,225 people in Taiwan were diagnosed with liver cancer and 8,402 people died of it, the Health Promotion Administration said, adding that by preventing or treating a fatty liver, people can effectively reduce their risk of liver cancer.
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