Liver cancer has been on the rise and up to 10 people per one lakh population can get affected. Liver cancer can either start in the liver, called primary liver cancer, or spread from elsewhere in the body, called secondary cancer. Secondary liver cancer usually suggests that the cancer is advanced. Let’s learn more about the causes of liver cancer and ways to prevent it.
What is the role of a healthy liver?
Liver is the largest organ of the body and helps with important functions like digestion, making proteins, and sugars, and storing them. Livers filter the blood from the intestines thereby preventing infections.
When the liver is damaged, these functions can be impaired leading to jaundice, loss of weight, bleeding tendency, and infections. Due to prolonged liver injury, the liver can get scarred causing cirrhosis. This is a risk factor for liver cancer and liver failure.
What causes liver cancer in cirrhosis?
Long-term inflammation or injury of the liver cells can cause genetic changes to these cells. The balance between tumour-causing genes and tumor suppressor genes is reversed, thus increasing the risk of liver cancer.
Any liver injury that is persistent, can cause scarring of the liver progressing to cirrhosis. The most common causes of cirrhosis are alcohol, fatty liver, and viral infections (Hepatitis B and C). There are other less common causes of cirrhosis such as genetic disorders, autoimmune disorders, and bile duct diseases.
What are the symptoms of liver cancer?
Liver cancer may or may not present with any symptoms. Patients might experience pain in the upper abdomen along with jaundice and weight loss. Liver cancers are usually picked up during the monitoring of patients with liver cirrhosis as cirrhosis is one of the most likely causes. This is done by regular ultrasound examination of the liver and blood tests.
Is liver cancer preventable?
Most liver cancers are preventable. However, it is difficult to treat. The treatment also depends on the stage of liver cancer but treatment for primary and secondary are quite similar.
Here are ways to prevent liver cancers:
- Avoiding or limiting alcohol intake.
- Maintaining a balanced diet.
- Regular exercise, coupled with diet, thereby prevents obesity and fatty liver disease.
- Avoiding risk behaviours like drug abuse and unprotected sex which increase the risk of viral hepatitis.
- Routine testing for viruses like hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
- Vaccination against hepatitis B.
- Regular checkups to diagnose risk factors for liver disease like diabetes and high cholesterol early.
How to detect liver cancer early?
Not all liver cancers are preventable. Therefore, screening is recommended for those at increased risk of liver cancer. This includes patients with known liver disease and those with Hepatitis B and C. Regular examination and monitoring, and biannual tests specifically directed to identifying early liver cancer are recommended. This includes an ultrasound scan and a blood test called alfa-fetoprotein. Further investigations such as CT scans, MRIs, and liver biopsies may be required to diagnose early liver cancer. There are multiple treatments available to cure early liver cancers like surgery, including liver transplantation