Health & Fitness

Obesity, diabetes and hepatitis contributing to liver cancer — and its fatality rates

Dr. Kevin Stadtlander, section head of Interventional Radiology at Cleveland Clinic Weston, with his patient Glenn Dorries, 63, who has been battling liver cancer since 2012. He recently passed the five-year survival mark.
Dr. Kevin Stadtlander, section head of Interventional Radiology at Cleveland Clinic Weston, with his patient Glenn Dorries, 63, who has been battling liver cancer since 2012. He recently passed the five-year survival mark. for the Miami Herald

For 30 years, Glenn Dorries was a commercial pilot, transporting organs and blood shipments during highly time-critical flights. But eight years ago Dorries became the one in need of critical care when he was diagnosed with liver cancer.

The 63-year-old Davie resident discovered he had the disease by accident while being treated for high blood pressure. An ultrasound was performed on his kidneys and there was something seen on his liver, which was found to be malignant.

“I consider myself very lucky to have found it early,” said Dorries, noting that the cancer hadn’t spread beyond his liver. “By the time most people find out it is too late and untreatable.”

Liver cancer was the sixth-leading cause of cancer death in 2016, up from ninth in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Between 2000 and 2016, U.S. liver cancer death rates jumped 43 percent for men and 40 percent for women, according to the CDC.

Those facing the biggest risk?

White non-Hispanics, whose liver cancer mortality rates rose 48 percent from 2000 and 2016, according to the CDC. Liver cancer mortality rates rose 43 percent for black non-Hispanics.

For Hispanics, the increase was substantially less, a 27 percent gain in liver cancer mortality rates from 2000 and 2016.

Patients with localized liver cancer, or cancer that hasn’t spread beyond the liver, have a five-year relative survival rate of more than 30 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

Dorries has beaten those odds.

“It has been a long and unpleasant road but the fact that I’m still here is a credit to my doctor and the Cleveland Clinic,” Dorries said. “They offered options when others didn’t, which is huge.”

He also credits his wife for helping him to stay on top of his care.

“My wife, Tina, has been hugely instrumental,” Dorries said. “She is organized, which is very important. It is also important to advocate for yourself, keep your doctors well informed and have the necessary information to make informed decisions.”

Risk factors for liver cancer include drinking, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a byproduct of America’s obesity epidemic. Hepatitis C (HCV) infection is also a factor and comprises more than 20 percent of cases annually.

Dorries didn’t have a history of cirrhosis or any other diseases. But he had a tumor on his liver that, due to its size, made him ineligible for a transplant, which according to the cancer society, is one of the two best options to cure liver cancer.

The second option being a surgical resection or removal of the tumor, which Dorries underwent in later years for the right side of his liver.

Since his diagnosis, Dorries has had about 10 medical procedures.

“He is a tough guy,” said Dr. Kevin Stadtlander, section head of Interventional Radiology at Cleveland Clinic Weston. “He keeps on fighting.”

Throughout the course of his treatment, Dorries has undergone microwave ablation, which uses the energy from electromagnetic waves to heat and destroy the tumor. He’s also had a trans-arterial chemoembolization (TACE), which is used for cancers that can’t be treated with surgery or ablation.

Chemotherapy is transmitted through a catheter directly into the artery, plugging up the hepatic artery, which supplies blood to the liver and other organs. This way, the chemo can stay close to the tumor.

“It is a same-day surgery and the patient is up and walking afterward,” Stadtlander said. “There is no tiredness, no incision to heal, and no bed rest.”

Dorries also had a portal vein embolization (PVE), a procedure that induces regrowth on one side of the liver in advance of a planned resection on the other side. He’s also undergone laparoscopic surgery to remove tumors as well.

Some of the procedures have been performed more than once.

“He’s had the ability to recover extremely quickly from these procedures,” Stadtlander said. “We offer minimally invasive surgery, so recovery is quick. We call it pinhole or band-aid surgery because we go through a tiny hole. They get a band-aid and they are on their way.”

Although not performed on Dorries, another treatment is radioembolization, which injects small beads that have the radioactive isotope, yttrium-90, into the hepatic artery, which is connected to the liver. The beads lodge in the blood vessels near the tumor and give off small amounts of radiation directed at the tumor for several days.

Dorries has only the left side of his liver working since his resection procedure. He takes medication to treat his condition.

Currently, he doesn’t have any active tumors but there is a small tumor, less than 1 centimeter. His condition is monitored every few months through imaging. If the tumor becomes bigger during his next visit, then he will have to undergo treatment.

Although his pilot days are behind him — Dorries is on medical disability — he remains active. He goes fishing and rides his motorcycle weekly.

“I buzz around on the bikes and have fun,” Dorries said.

The father of two adult children and grandfather of three is glad that he is still alive and can even babysit his grandchildren.

“It is great getting to see my grandkids and be with my family,” Dorries said. “I’ve beat those odds. It was decidedly unpleasant. It wasn’t all fun, but you have to go through it to get to the other side.”

Throughout his treatment, Stadtlander noted Dorries has maintained a positive outlook, which Dorries credits to his faith.

“My faith in God brought me to the realization that when facing mortality there are more important things,” Dorries said. “Reading the Bible and being familiar with Scriptures is very important to your well-being. It is imperative to have faith when dealing with the disease. God never gives us more than we can handle.”