A new project is underway at the Lao Tropical and Public Health Institute to improve the treatment of bile duct cancer in Laos and reduce the number of fatalities.
The project, titled “Fighting cholangiocarcinoma in the Lao PDR”, aims to provide better treatment and care of patients with bile duct cancer and to strengthen capacity in the management of the disease.
The total cost of the three-year project is US$127,000.
An agreement on the project was signed last Tuesday in Vientiane between the Director General of the Lao Tropical and Public Health Institute under the Ministry of Health, Dr Sengchanh Kounnavong, and Vice President of Khon Kaen University in Thailand, Associate Prof. Dr Lampang Manmart.
Under the agreement, the two parties will implement the agreed areas of cooperation through joint participation in research projects, including raising awareness of liver fluke infection in local communities in a bid to prevent the development of cancer.
Medical staff will receive training in the treatment and care of patients with bile duct cancer with a focus on the fields of hepatobiliary surgery, radiology, anaesthesia and intensive care.
Training will take place at Mahosot Hospital and Savannakhet and Champassak provincial hospitals. Screening for bile duct cancer in communities at high risk will facilitate diagnosis of the early stages of cancer, which will improve treatment outcomes.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, Dr Sengchanh said the project would be conducted in provinces where liver fluke infection is highly prevalent, in central and southern areas.
She said the incidence of bile duct cancer in Southeast Asia, including Thailand and Laos, was much higher than in other parts of the world.
Its occurrence is significantly associated with liver fluke infection, which is highly prevalent in countries along the Mekong River.
An estimated 35-40 million people are infected with cancer-associated liver fluke in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and northeast Thailand, resulting in one of the largest cancer epidemics worldwide.
Eating raw, fermented or undercooked cyprinid freshwater fish can result in liver fluke infection, which in turn causes chronic biliary inflammation and fibrosis which can lead to the development of bile duct cancer, Dr Sengchanh said.
Bile duct cancer is similar to some other cancers in that early diagnosis and the correct treatment can save lives.
Today, two standard treatments are effective - liver surgical resection and liver transplantation, she added.
But these treatment options require specialised and early detection. Late presentation of symptoms reduces the chances of successful surgical intervention.