News Centre

10 Dec 2007

CUHK Survey Shows a Poor Understanding of Liver Cancer Assessment Tools among Hepatitis B Patients in Hong Kong

10 Dec 2007

Chronic hepatitis B virus infection is a common chronic disease. In Hong Kong, approximately 10% (around 700,000 citizens) of the population are infected with hepatitis B virus (HBV). In Asia, most of the HBV patients were infected by their mothers at birth and the virus would remain in patients’ bodies asymptomatically. Patients were normally unaware of the disease until they have reached their middle age. When they experienced various HBV-related complications, around 25% of the patients would die from liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

A large-scale medical research conducted recently in Taiwan has found that testing for the amount of HBV in the body (HBV DNA examination) can help assess the health condition of hepatitis B patients and predict the probabilities of getting liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. The more HBV virus patients have in their bodies, the higher the risks of contracting liver cancer in the future. Using medication to suppress and control HBV can reduce the risks of contracting liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. This explains why reducing the amount of HBV virus in hepatitis B patients has become the main treatment goal in the US, Europe and Asia.

The Center for Liver Health at The Chinese University of Hong Kong commissioned a marketing agency to conduct a survey from May to July 2007. Around three thousand Hong Kong citizens have been interviewed in total, in an attempt to understand more about their vigilance levels towards chronic hepatitis B and patients’ levels of understandings in the risk assessment methods of liver cancer. According to the results, 58% of the citizens aged between 15 and 64 (around 2.9 million) had never examined their livers. Furthermore, 5% of the people in this age group were categorized as high risk (i.e. siblings and offsprings of hepatitis B patients). 63% of those high risk people had never examined their livers, representing a higher percentage than that of the general population (58%).

In addition, this study conducted follow-up interviews with nearly 300 hepatitis B carriers. It was found that 68% of hepatitis B carriers were aware of the fact that hepatitis B can cause liver cancer, but their knowledge in liver examination was insufficient. Most of the hepatitis B carriers perceived blood tests or liver enzyme tests as the commonest examinations, but over 90% of the patients were unaware of HVB DNA examination being one of the treatment targets for assessing the risks of contracting liver cancer.

In conclusion, the study showed that citizens’ vigilance levels and their knowledge in the risk assessments for liver cancer are both insufficient. The Center for Liver Health therefore suggested that all Hong Kong citizens, especially the high risk population, should have their livers examined as early as possible. All hepatitis B patients should also receive the HVB DNA examination, in order to assess the levels of risks for any disease-related complications and the need for medical treatments.