The liver is the largest solid organ in the human body.
It receives about 1.5 liters of blood per minute, and is involved in three major vital functions that are essential to our body: cleansing, synthesis, and storage.
Our body can only live 1-2 days if the liver fails, which is why it’s considered the second most important organ for survival.
What Causes Liver Cancer?
Liver cancer is 5th most common cancer in the world with rates of over one million new cases each year. According to the National Cancer Institute, about 15,000 men and 6,000 women in the US are diagnosed with the disease every year.
Liver cancer can develop in two forms – primary, when the cancer starts in the liver, and secondary or metastatic, which forms in other parts of the body and spreads to the liver.
Like many types of cancer, liver cancer symptoms often do not appear in the early stages. As a result, liver cancer tends to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage.
What are the risk factors associated with liver cancer?
The exact cause of liver cancer is not known. Scientists have identified many risk factors that can make someone more likely to develop liver cancer:
- Gender: Among those with chronic liver disease, men are more likely to develop liver cancer than are women. The reason for this is unknown.
- Race: Researches show that liver cancer extent rates are especially high in countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. In fact, primary liver cancer is the most common type of cancer in some of these countries. Also, countries with less developed medical treatments experience many more cases than in the U.S.
- Viral infection of the liver: Chronic infection with either hepatitis B or hepatitis C may lead to the development of cancer.
- Cirrhosis: It is the formation of scar tissue in the liver. This can often lead to cancer. Major causes of liver cirrhosis are alcohol use, chronic hepatitis B and C, and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Most causes of cirrhosis are also associated with the development of liver cancer.
- Alcohol: excessive alcohol use is a known risk factor for development of alcoholic cirrhosis and liver cancer.
- Diabetes: People with diabetes are more susceptible to this cancer as they have a higher risk of fatty liver disease, which in time can lead to liver cancer.
- Obesity: increases the risk of liver cancer in those patients in whom it causes liver disease.
- Smoking: Smoking significantly increases the risk of liver cancer.
What are the symptoms of liver cancer?
Unfortunately, in the early stages, liver cancer does not cause symptoms. Some common symptoms of advanced liver cancer include:
- weight loss
- loss of appetite
- abdominal pain
- fluid in the abdomen
- unexplained nausea and vomiting
- continual weakness and/or fatigue
- abnormal digestion and stool with white in it
- persistent itching of the skin
- unexplained fever
How To Prevent Liver Cancer?
Since it’s not always clear what causes liver cancer, doctors do not always know how to prevent it. Even so, you should still avoid known risk factors as much as possible. Below are some ways to avoid risk factors that have been linked to liver cancer:
- Avoid cirrhosis by seeking treatment before it develops. Make lifestyle changes such as losing weight, not drinking any alcohol, quitting smoking, and taking vitamin D supplements. taking statins has been shown to decrease the risk of developing liver cancer.
- Avoid activities that increase the risk of exposure to the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV). These activities include using intravenous drugs, having many sex partners, and handling human blood or fluids without protection. Also, be sure to ask your doctor if you should get the hepatitis B vaccine. If you are at risk for HBV or HCV infection, ask your doctor about getting tested. For people who are infected, drugs are available that can keep the infections in check or even cure them in some people. This may lower your risk of liver cancer.
- Avoid drinking a lot of alcohol to reduce your risk of cirrhosis, a disease of the liver that increases the risk of liver cancer.
- Avoid any raw food that may contain the fungus Aspergillus flavus, which releases toxins that can lead to liver cancer.
Can I get checked for liver cancer before I have symptoms?
Symptoms of liver cancer often do not appear until it is in later stages. Doctor’s don’t recommend screening tests for liver cancer for most people. If you have known risk factors, your doctor may advise testing. Risk factors include heavy alcohol use, cirrhosis, or hepatitis B or C infection.
Ultrasound imaging of the liver is another screening used to find liver cancer before it gives symptoms in people at high risk. If you belong to this group, your doctor may ask you to do ultrasounds every 6 months.
MRI or CT scan is also done for diagnosis.
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