A THAI delicacy made from raw fish has been found to cause fatal liver cancer.
Koi Pla – as the dish is called – comes from Isaan Province in northeastern Thailand, which has been plagued by astronomically high rates of bile duct cancer for years.
Only recently have scientists linked these cases to the cheap plate of raw, ground fish with spices and lime that locals enjoy.
The carcinogenic dish is so deadly that it is estimated that up to 20,000 people die from it in Thailand each year.
It’s not a specific ingredient in the dish itself that causes cancer – rather, it’s the parasitic flatworms called liver flukes that sometimes live in the raw fish used.
The parasites are native to freshwater fish in the Mekong region.
As a result, Isaan has the world’s most common case of aggressive cholangiocarcinoma – bile duct cancer, due to heavy consumption of raw fish meal.
A local doctor, Narong Khuntikeo, has been fighting for years to warn locals about the dangers of the silent killer dish after losing both his parents to cholangiocarcinoma.
“There is a very big health burden here,” the liver surgeon told Agence France-Presse.
“But no one knows about it because they die quietly, like leaves falling from a tree.”
Narong assembled a team of scientists, doctors and anthropologists who drove ultrasound machines and urine testing kits around the Isaan region, testing villagers for the parasite.
It was found that up to 80 percent of residents in some communities had ingested the parasite.
And at a testing site visited by AFP, a third of villagers had abnormal liver symptoms and four were suspected of having cancer.
What is Cholangiocarcinoma?
Chalangiocarcinoma is cancer that occurs anywhere in the bile ducts – which are small tubes that drain digestive fluid from the liver and gallbladder.
Symptoms can be difficult to recognize.
According to the NHS these include:
- The whites of your eyes turn yellow or your skin turns yellow, which may be less visible on brown or black skin (jaundice)
- Itchy skin
- Darker urine and paler stools than usual
- Loss of appetite or weight loss without trying
- General malaise
- Feeling tired or lacking energy
- High temperature, heat or chill
Other symptoms may affect your stomach, such as:
- Feeling sick or being sick
- pain in the stomach
If you experience these symptoms, you should urgently make an appointment with your family doctor.