Although liver cancer is one of the top three killers in Hong Kong - after lung and colorectal cancers - many people fail to understand the gravity of the situation, a survey found.
The Hong Kong Liver Cancer Foundation commissioned the University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme to conduct a survey, in which a total of 507 people, aged 18 and above, were interviewed in August.
The survey found that the public had major misconceptions about the disease. These included:
Only 10 percent correctly identified the hepatitis B virus as the main cause of liver cancer in Hong Kong;
Around 39 percent mistakenly thought that drinking too much alcohol was the main reason;
Only 14 percent knew that liver cancer did not display any symptoms during its early stages, while 76 percent believed that symptoms, such as abdominal pain and yellowish skin and eyes, are signs of the disease; and
About 96 percent underestimated or had no idea that those with the hepatitis B virus have a much higher risk of liver cancer than non-carriers.
According to statistics from Hong Kong Cancer Registry, liver cancer claimed 1,488 lives out of 1,832 newly diagnosed cases in 2009.
Data gleaned from 5,261 liver cancer cases from Queen Mary Hospital, from 1991 to 2010, indicate that almost 80 percent of cases in the territory can be traced to the Hepatitis B virus.
Medical experts think that one in 10 Hongkongers carry the Hepatitis B virus.
Ronnie Poon Tung-ping, chairman of the foundation and clinical professor at the University of Hong Kong, said: "This is an alarming situation because hepatitis B is highly prevalent in Hong Kong. The risk of suffering from liver cancer is 100 times higher for hepatitis B virus carriers than non-carriers."
What are the most common methods of being infected with hepatitis B?
Many people think that eating polluted seafood and sharing meals with those carrying the virus will result in them getting infected, but this is not the case.
A person can contract hepatitis B only through blood transfusion and by coming into contact with body fluids, such as mother-to-child transmission, which, incidentally, is the most common mode of infection in Hong Kong.
Chronic Hepatitis B carriers show no obvious symptoms and only a blood test can confirm the disease.
Lao Wai-cheung, council member of the foundation, said: "Hepatitis B carriers are strongly advised to check themselves every six months to monitor their liver condition."
Meanwhile, similar to hepatitis B, the early stages of liver cancer do not show any symptoms.
However, when the tumor becomes uncomfortably big, the patient will experience pain in the upper right side of the abdomen, loss of appetite, significant weight loss and yellowing of the skin and eyes. By the time these symptoms show, the liver cancer is already at a late stage.
Men are four times more likely to get liver cancer than women, and those between 40 and 60 years of age are prime candidates.
For hepatitis B carriers, periodic body checks are essential since they will help detect liver cancer at an early stage and increase the chances for survival. Patients are advised to do ultrasound and alpha-fetoprotein tests, which are effective in detecting liver cancer during its early stages.