What is liver cancer?
The liver is a vital organ that performs many important functions in our body: it neutralizes and destroys toxic, foreign substances; synthesizes nutrients, hormones involved in metabolism, etc.
Liver cancer occurs when liver cells begin to grow rapidly and uncontrollably, and divide, if left untreated. The disease can spread beyond the liver over time and threaten life.
Liver cancer can be divided into two types: hepatocellular and cholangiocellular carcinoma. It is rare to find other cancer types. The first type of cancer occurs most often, in 90% of cases. It can occur in the form of one or more tumors, or can affect the entire liver.
Liver cancer is one of the most common cancer types in Korea, according to statistics for 2017, it was ranked 6th among cancers. Prognosis for advanced liver cancer is not comforting, so it is important for patients at high risk of the disease to be aware of the need for constant screening. Timely detection and treatment of cancer can be the difference.
Additionally, for patients who have already been diagnosed with liver cancer, it is necessary to realize that there are many treatment options and treatments are constantly updated. It is necessary to find an experienced doctor with advanced available methods and start suitable treatment.
Symptoms and risk factors for liver cancer
What is dangerous for liver cancer is that the initial stage is often asymptomatic. Sometimes, there may be pain in the right upper abdomen, but often it goes unnoticed, and the disease starts. Often, the disease itself proceeds quickly and is detected at a much advanced stage.
Among the symptoms of liver cancer are:
- Pain in the right upper abdomen, bloating
- Tumor palpation
- Weight loss and appetite
- Severe fatigue, jaundice, etc.
Proven risk factors for liver cancer:
- Chronic hepatitis B and C, viral hepatitis: 70% of liver cancer develops against the background of hepatitis B and C
- Malnutrition: Eating carcinogens increases cancer risk
- Smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity contributes to the development of cirrhosis, fatty hepatosis and, as a result, liver cancer
Since early liver cancer is almost impossible to detect, it is strongly recommended to do a hepatitis B vaccine. If chronic hepatitis is already present, treatment is necessary.
In Korea, people over the age of 40 at risk are advised to undergo a medical check up (liver ultrasound, AFP, etc.) every 6 months.
Hospitals specializing in the treatment of liver cancer in Korea
Medical Avenue have extensive experience with different hospitals in Korea (1st level hospitals – Samsung Medical Center, Severance Hospital, St. Mary; 2nd level hospitals – Ajou University Hospital, Cha Ilsan, etc.). The experience of our patients is important to us. Thus, our coordinators conduct a thorough assessment of the work of hospitals, doctors and medical staff. Medical Avenue’s accumulated experience allows to make recommendations individually: according to the diagnosis and wishes of patients.
NOTE: Some hospitals in Korea use experimental NK cell therapy for cancer treatment. This method uses our own NK cells. Cell collection occurs through the usual blood collection. Then, in the laboratory they multiply millions of times those cells and injected back to the patient intravenously. This method helps to use your own immune system in the fight against cancer. Suitable for both patients with the initial stage and terminal stage of cancer. For more information, please contact our experts for advice.
Preliminary plan for liver cancer screenings in Korea
When contacting hospitals in Korea, a detailed examination is carried out to determine the stage of liver cancer and the presence of metastasis.
|– Ultrasound and MRI: abdominal organs|
– CT of chest and abdominal organs
– Blood, urine, ECG
– PET-CT (if necessary)
|Approx. $3,500 (no PET-CT)|
Approx. $5,000 (with PET-CT)1
|– A biopsy is necessary if it is difficult to make an accurate diagnosis on visual studies.||$3,000~$4,0002|
1 Cost according to general prices. The list of tests and the cost may change per case. 2 Cost for a biopsy. Histological research is paid separately, depending on the levels of study, the cost can vary.
Preliminary plan for liver cancer treatment in Korea
Treatment of liver cancer is divided into two types: radical and conservative.
First, the radical method of treatment is the surgical removal of the tumor, liver transplantation, tumor ablation (ethanol, radiofrequency waves, etc). Liver transplantation is the recommended treatment not only for liver cancer, but also for cirrhosis or advanced hepatitis. For foreign patients, liver transplantation in Korea is performed only from a living related donor.
Second, the conservative method includes trans-arterial chemoembolization (TACE), radiotherapy, chemotherapy, proton therapy.
In the early stages of liver cancer, doctors recommend the radical methods. Unfortunately, in the later stages of detection it is not always possible to use them. Thus, doctors use conservative methods to prevent the growth of the tumor and further reduce it. After that, it is possible to perform surgery or to prolong life as much as possible while making it comfortable.
Every year new research and testing appears, authorities approve new immunotherapy drugs, targeted therapies and other advanced methods to treat liver cancer. One recent example: In May 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the immunotherapy drug Tecentricic (Atezolyumab) in combination with Avastein (Bevacizumab) as a level 1-level drug in the treatment of inoperable liver cancer. This year, after undergoing a number of procedures, the method will soon be approved in Korea.
|Possible treatment options||Cost|
|– Radiofrequency ablation, cryoablation|
– Hepatic artery embolization
|– Liver Transplantation 2|
|– Chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy||$1,000 to $5,000 for 1 course3|
1 The cost may change according to the type, scope of surgery or procedure and individual characteristics of treatment. 2 Cost after reviewing the medical documents of the donor and the recipient. 3 Protocol appoints an oncologist based on the results of all surveys. The cost depends on the assigned protocol. When prescribing immunotherapy, the cost may increase. 4 The cost of radiation therapy will depend on the number of courses, drugs and dosage.
Approximate screening time and treatment schedule in Korea
- Day 1: consultation with the professor, appointment of examinations
- Day 2: survey
- Day 8-9: secondary consultation, survey results
- Ablation, embolization: scheduled, hospitalization for 3 days
- Surgery: scheduled, hospitalization for 8-10 days
- Liver transplantation: on schedule, hospitalization for 1.5-2 months
- Outpatient appointment based on the results of the biopsy after discharge and flight home. 1
1 The stay may change depending on the patient’s condition, the type of surgery and the schedule of the ward in which the treatment will take place.
Advice from a treatment coordinator in Korea
- Bring porridge and light drinks, as light as possible, mild food is recommended after surgery.
- Be sure to follow the regime and recommendations after surgery or procedures.
- Bring with you all the medicines you take on a permanent basis.
Liver cancer treatment in Korea testimonials
We met Medical Avenue’s staff at the end of 2019, when my husband and I flew to Korea for diagnostic procedures. In early 2020, my dad was diagnosed with liver cancer. We contacted Katherine and immediately went to Samsung hospital for examination. Everything was quickly organized. Dad was seen by a gastroenterologist, scheduled examinations, and according to the results of the examinations we got to the surgeon. Because of coronavirus, we were unable to fly in for examinations in March, so our coordinators went to see the professor, received the drug for the next course of treatment and sent it to us. In August, despite the coronavirus and quarantine, we arrived for examinations, spent 2 weeks in a hotel in quarantine, and in 1 week we passed all examinations and appointments.The results were very pleasing to us. I want to say that all professors (gastroenterologist, surgeon, oncologist) and medical staff were friendly, treated patients with understanding, tried to help as much as possible, despite their busy schedule. Everything was well organized, Medical Avenue’s girls are attentive, respond to all our requests, even on weekends there is always someone in touch. Helped to solve many problems that arose during the stay. We would like to express our gratitude for the help. Thank you all very much! Be happy and healthy!