October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month
Editor’s Note: October marks Liver Cancer Awareness Month, and Real World Health Care is honored to shine a spotlight on one organization dedicated to improving liver health, increasing awareness, and advocating for liver disease, not just this month, but year round. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Liver Cancer Awareness Month activities are taking on a decidedly different form than in years past, as you’ll see below.
Liver cancer incidence rates have more than tripled since 1980, according to the American Cancer Society, while death rates have more than doubled during this time. This year, it is estimated that over 42,000 Americans will be diagnosed with the disease and over 30,000 will die.
The increased rate of liver cancer diagnoses and deaths tracks with the increased incidence of hepatitis C and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), notes the American Liver Foundation®. The ALF states that in the case of hepatitis C, it takes 10 to 30 years to develop liver cancer in about five percent of infected patients. Thus, the cases of liver cancer diagnosed today are the ones who were infected with hepatitis back in the 1980s and 1990s. The number of liver cancer cases will also increase due to NAFLD, which occurs in about 20-30 percent of Americans, mainly in those who are morbidly obese and diabetic.
Community Liver Alliance
The Community Liver Alliance (CLA), is a community-based organization dedicated to promoting liver health and liver disease awareness, prevention, education, advocacy, and research. Supported by a network of patients, caregivers, health care professionals and community leaders, the organization develops and runs educational workshops, provides expertise and leadership for statewide viral hepatitis elimination plans, conducts screenings, coordinates support groups, facilitates linkage to necessary medical care, provides education for policy makers on issues related to liver health, and works with community leaders and groups to raise awareness about liver disease.
Hepatitis C: An Epidemic inside a Pandemic
“While the CLA was founded in Pittsburgh, Pa., it has expanded to become national in scope,” said Suzanna Masartis, its executive director. Among the many services the CLA offers, the non-profit has hosted more than 6,000 free Hepatitis C screenings in conjunction with community partners over the past seven years. The CLA is also working to break down barriers to care for Hepatitis C patients.
“Screening is just the first step,” said Masartis. “But now that we have a cure for the disease, it’s important for patients to get connected to the appropriate care. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional barriers to accessing care.”
Masartis explained that the pandemic has restricted shelter and harm-reduction services and spiked an increase in opioid drug use, leaving vulnerable populations even more susceptible to hepatitis B and C. Quite often, these vulnerable individuals have dual mental health diagnoses and problems with homelessness, which make it difficult to access traditional care. Telemedicine is also out-of-reach for them because they don’t have access to technology.
“Minorities are particularly vulnerable, so the CLA is reaching out to diverse populations and meeting them where they are,” Masartis said. “For example, we’ve partnered with former Pittsburgh Steelers placekicker, Shaun Suisham, in a wide-ranging Kick Liver Disease program designed to build grassroots awareness of fatty liver disease and healthy lifestyle choices to both children and adults.”
Awareness Month with a Socially Distant Twist
The CLA typically recognizes Liver Cancer Awareness Month with a gala fundraising dinner called the Steel Chef Challenge. This year, they decided to flip the script and rather than gather hundreds of people together in a hotel ballroom, they invited their culinary partners to create a “gourmet dinner in a box.”
Patrons will visit one of about a dozen Pittsburgh-area restaurants on Saturday, October 17, where they will have an opportunity for a socially distant meet-and-greet with the chef and will receive their gourmet dinner, complete with place cards, flowers, wine glasses and at-home reheating instructions. The CLA, along with premier provider sponsor University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, will conduct a concurrent virtual event to celebrate the patients and other heroes making a difference in liver health.
“It’s important to recognize, as our country grapples with the very real health and societal concerns of the COVID pandemic, that hepatitis C doesn’t stop, and liver cancer doesn’t stop,” Masartis concluded.
A Message from our Sponsor: Financial Assistance Available for Patients Living with Hep C
The HealthWell Foundation, sponsor of Real World Health Care, supports patients with liver disease through a Hepatitis C Treatment Fund. The fund, which offers grants of up to $30,000 to qualified patients, helps people access life-changing treatments while minimizing the worry over their financial cost. HealthWell also offers a Cancer-Related Behavioral Health Fund, which provides cancer patients with copay assistance for behavioral-health related prescriptions, counseling services, psychotherapy, and transportation.
To determine eligibility and apply for assistance, or to learn how you can support these programs, visit the Foundation’s website at www.HealthWellFoundation.org.