Doctors concerned habits to deal with pandemic stress could lead to long-term health issues

ORANGE (KABC) -- Doctors fear many of the things people are doing to cope with the stress of the pandemic could lead to long-term health consequences. And liver cancer is a top concern.

When Lorena Lechuga of Anaheim underwent a weight loss procedure, doctors found a two-pound tumor in her liver.

"I was only 39 years old when this happened to me... All I did was pray and do everything that the doctors told me to do," said Lechuga.

Her physician, Dr. Hisham El-Bayar at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange says many people discover they have liver cancer when seeking medical care for something else. Cases have climbed 75% worldwide since 1990.

"There are a significant number of people at risk, either because of alcohol, because of hepatitis B and hepatitis C," said Dr. El-Bayer.

COVID-19 is having an impact: studies show alcohol consumption is going up. Another concern? Dr. El-Bayar says people are putting on pandemic pounds and that can lead to fatty liver disease and eventually liver cancer.

"It's really become an epidemic, and it's about to overtake all the other causes," said Dr. El-Bayer.

"I'm the first one in my family on both my mom and my dad's side to ever have any kind of cancer," said Lechuga.

After surgery, she underwent three years of oral chemotherapy and still gets regular liver scans.

"The treatments range anywhere from surgery which is the most ideal thing either removing the tumor or liver transplantation if you can get to that point," said Dr. El-Bayer.

Dr. El-Bayar says it'll take years to see the effects on the liver due to people's behaviors during this pandemic. But his advice: make healthy choices now and be aware.
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