A new initiative to check for liver cancer in high-risk communities has been rolled out as part of a major NHS drive to catch more cancers earlier and save lives.
The roaming trucks performed more than 7,000 fibroscans and identified over 830 people with cirrhosis or advanced fibrosis, a leading cause of liver cancer, in eight months (June 2022 to January 2023) – with the majority of those identified referred on to further care.
The mobile trucks are visiting high-risk communities across the country at GP practices, recovery services, food banks, diabetes clinics, sexual health clinics and homeless shelters to perform quick, non-invasive scans. The trucks are expected to visit and scan 22,000 people during the first year of the pilot scheme.
Checks are being offered in the community to adults with high levels of alcohol consumption, a current diagnosis or history of past viral hepatitis, or non-alcoholic liver disease, as these factors increase the risk of developing liver cancer.
NHS staff are already visiting at-risk communities as part of the Hepatitis C Elimination Programme and the programme is being expanded to include a liver health check involving an on-the-spot fibrosis scan which detects liver damage. Around 6,100 people are diagnosed with liver cancer each year but the number of cases has doubled over the past decade and is expected to continue to rise.
Currently only one in three liver cancers are diagnosed at an early stage, but this programme will help catch more cancers earlier, giving patients a much better chance of surviving the illness. If caught early, patients have a 70-90% chance of survival for five years or more with treatment.
Dame Cally Palmer, National Cancer Director for the NHS in England, said: “Building on the success of other community diagnostic schemes, like our lung trucks, this innovative surveillance programme is bringing lifesaving checks to people who are at a higher risk of liver cancer, and who may have found it difficult to come forward or access health care otherwise.
“The on-the-spot liver scans have already found that around one in ten people in communities visited have advanced liver damage that needs further monitoring or treatment as it could lead to liver cancer – ensuring these people are seen early and referred on for further testing will help us to diagnose cancers at an earlier stage.
“We’ve already seen hundreds of people diagnosed at an earlier stage through our targeted lung cancer trucks, and now with the addition of NHS teams offering these vital liver checks in mobile trucks across the country, I urge anyone who is offered a scan in their community to take up the opportunity.”
Those who are deemed high risk will be provided with information about their level of risk and, where appropriate, will be referred to their GP. If needed, patients will be referred straight into a six-month liver surveillance care programme, where they will be partnered with a peer support worker who will continue to check in, as well as offer guidance and help informed by people who have experienced liver disease themselves.
The pilot scheme delivers on the NHS Long Term Plan ambition to detect cancer as early as possible, so that three in four people have their cancer detected at a very early stage when treatment is more effective. The screening programme means that patients get access to the specialist services they need quickly – regardless of where they live.