Liver cancer patients find hope in new surgical technique

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The liver is the largest organ in the body and has an awesome responsibility. It produces proteins that help blood clotting and immunity. It serves as a ‘filtering organ’ and purifies the blood of toxic chemicals or infective organisms and processes nutrients from the food we eat and stores energy. Unfortunately, while performing these filtering functions, it can be infected by toxins and impurities which lead to organ malfunction and worse, cancer.

According to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) data published in 2017, liver disease deaths in the Philippines reached 8,401 or 1.36% of total deaths. In the same study, liver cancer deaths in the Philippines reached 8,010 or 1.29% of total deaths. Put together, this data is quite alarming.

Senior surgeon and liver specialist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Dr. Stephen Chang, was in Manila recently to share information on the advances in medical treatments for vital organs like the liver, gall bladder and pancreas. Because of the high incidence of liver disease in the Philippines, his talk focused on liver disease treatments.

Here are the highlights of his presentation:

“Depending on the stage of the liver cancer, treatment ranges from surgery, tumor ablation (heat therapy), chemotherapy, targeted cancer therapy, and radiotherapy. Surgery is the prescribed treatment for patients with early stage liver cancer. Previously, liver surgeries require big incisions in the abdomen to expose the liver, which is located under the rib cage.”

Because of the risks and hardships associated with this type of open surgery, many patients forego treatment and often seek medical help only when the disease is at its advanced stage and very hard to treat.

“Nowadays, the surgical treatment of liver cancer has gotten better,” Dr. Chang revealed. “Surgeons have developed a new technique called minimally invasive surgery, which reduces pain and blood loss and speeds up patient recovery.”

With minimally invasive surgery, surgeons are now able to make much smaller cuts where a medical telescope is inserted to examine parts of the body that are located deep within, like the liver.

Dr. Chang then explained an even more advanced minimally invasive procedure – the Single Incision Laparoscopic Liver Resection. “A single-port device is inserted into the abdomen where surgeons scan and remove small liver tumours through a small scar well hidden at the belly button. This ‘scar-less’ procedure is helping patients to be more receptive to surgery at the early stage of their disease, when they can benefit most. Their recovery is so much faster and they can return to their normal lives sooner.”

Dr. Chang is a pioneer in the single incision laparoscopic surgery (SILS) described above. He has published numerous papers on SILS for the liver, gall bladder and pancreas. He is also active in the development of the living donor liver transplant program in Singapore, another treatment approach for more advanced stages of the cancer.

At the end of his presentation, Dr. Chang advised his listeners that prevention is still the best way to control the disease.

“There are several things you can do to prevent liver cancer. These include:

  1. Get Hepatitis B vaccination.
  2. Minimize consumption of known liver carcinogens, especially alcohol.
  3. Minimize your intake of fatty foods.
  4. Do not eat moldy peanuts, grains and nuts. They contain aflatoxins, a toxin produced by some mold that is linked to liver cancer.
  5. Go for regular screening if you are in the high-risk group (those infected with the Hepatitis B and C virus). We recommend blood tests for alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) every 3 – 6 months and ultrasound scans of the liver every 6 – 12 months.”

For more information about the liver disease and other condition, visit sg/healthplus. Health Plus is an online health and wellness resource developed by Mount Elizabeth Hospitals, Singapore.

To make an inquiry or appointment, contact our Central Patient Assistance Centre: 24-Hr Helpline: +65 6735 5000; Email:; Online appointment: