Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What Causes Liver Cancer and Prevention Tips

(Image credit to Reza Estakhrian/Getty Images)
In general, the exact causes of liver cancer are not yet confirmed. But in some cases, some causes of the disease are already confirmed. If you have a lot of risk factors of liver cancer, your doctor may recommend taking regularly screening tests for early detection. What else you need to know, particularly about the appropriately steps to decrease your risk of developing the disease? Keep reading!

You might also like to read symptoms of liver cancer and best steps to prevent cancer with foods that you eat, before continuing!

First, you need to clearly understand that not all cancers that affect the liver are considered to primary liver cancer. This primary type is used to describe cancer in the liver that form from the original cells of the liver. But primary type is much less common if compared with secondary type (cancer in the liver that comes from a cancer of other parts of the body that spreads to the liver).

What are causes of liver cancer?

As mentioned before, primary liver cancer begins to occur from the own cells of the liver. The most common cells in the liver that can be abnormal cells and grow out of control and then will be potential to cause a cancerous tumor is hepatocytes. This is the reason of why most primary type is also often called as hepatocellular carcinoma /HCC.

In many cases, the causes of the disease are not known. But in several cases, the cause is confirmed. For instances:
  1. People who have certain chronic infection (like an infection due to hepatitis viruses) are more likely to also have liver cancer. Some experts believe that the long term infection of hepatitis viruses (both hepatitis C or B viruses) may have a significant contribution to cause damage to the liver which then increase the risk of developing the cancer cells.
  2. Liver cancer is rare in the UK and U.S. But in many countries where the disease is relatively more common, unfriendly substances (such as arsenic and aflatoxin) are easier to be found. Some studies have shown that these substances may also contribute to increase the risk, particularly if you have long term exposure to them.
  3. Having scarring in the liver because of the previous damage – this is often called as ‘cirrhosis’. Cirrhosis can be caused by some different conditions, such as excessively alcohol consumption, having inherited diseases like Alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency and haemochromatosis, and an infection of hepatitis viruses.
  4. The disease is also believed to be more likely to occur in individuals who have blood sugar disorder (such as both type 1 and type 2 diabetes), certain health conditions (such HIV/AIDS) that can weaken the immune system of the body, and inherited metabolic diseases that affect the metabolism of the body.
Other conditions and factors that may have contribution to increase your risk are:
  1. Being overweight.
  2. Cigarette smoking (read also smoking side effects).
  3. And having a family history of liver disease, particularly if you have a first degree relative of family (like sister, brother, mother, or father) who has had a liver cancer or other liver diseases – according to the UK Cancer Research. In addition, a study also found that individuals who have brother or father with prostate cancer may also have an increased risk of liver cancer.
Furthermore, anabolic steroid use may also increase the risk – according to an article published on WebMD. Long term use of male hormones for muscle growth may slightly increase the risk of liver cancer!

What are different types of liver cancer?

As written before, HCC is the most common type of primary liver cancer. HCC is more common in men than in women – with elderly people at highest risk. It is also more likely to occur in individuals who have a damaged liver from cirrhosis.

Furthermore, there is also a subtype of HCC called fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma. It is usually more common in younger women who still don’t have scarring in the liver. But fibrolamellar HCC is relative easier to be treated than hepatocellular carcinoma.

The following are rare or very rare types of primary liver cancer:
  1. Hepatoblastoma! It is usually more common in young kids. In many cases, it is diagnosed in kids under 3. Chemotherapy and surgery are two common options of the treatment to treat this type.
  2. Haemangiosarcoma or called as ‘angiosarcoma’! It is a kind of cancer that usually begins to develop in the blood vessels of the liver. Unlike hepatoblastoma, angiosarcoma usually affects very elderly people (between about the age of 70s and 80s). Both angiosarcoma and hepatoblastoma are very rare. 
  3. Cholangiocarcinoma or also familiar called ‘bile duct cancer’. The treatment options are usually dependent to the location where the cancer cells occur for the first time. Bile is produced by the liver for digesting fat in food that you eat, and it flows through special tubes what we call ‘bile ducts’ into gallbladder. If the cancer cells begin in the section /part of the bile ducts outside the liver, the cancer is treated as bile duct cancer, but if they begin in the section /part of the bile ducts inside the liver then cancer is treated as liver cancer.
How do you prevent liver cancer?

Modifying some modifiable risk factors of liver cancer is the common choices to decrease your risk. So, what you should do to prevent the disease?

Keep your healthy weight!

It is undeniable that overweight is not good for your overall health. Though there is still no clearly evidence for the link between overweight and liver cancer - it’s much better to keep well your healthy weight in order to keep safe!

Furthermore, if you keep focus on your healthy weight then it can help you to keep focus on what you eat and keep far away from unhealthy foods (particularly such as foods high in saturated fat that also believed may have contribution to trigger cancer cells to form in the body – read also best foods to fight cancer).

Reduce the risk of developing scarring of the liver!

As mentioned before, people with scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) are more likely to have liver cancer. Therefore, it is important to reduce your risk of having cirrhosis. Keeping your healthy weight is one of common ways, other ways include:
  1. Be careful when using any chemicals! Follow all instructions completely on any chemical you use at work and at home!
  2. Exercise regularly! It is not only helpful for overall health of your body, but also can help maintain your healthy weight and decrease your risk of having obesity-related illness (particularly like cardiovascular disease that affects your blood vessels and heart – read also about how to prevent heart disease).
  3. Avoid drinking alcohol if necessary! But if you are not able to avoid it, make sure you consume it in moderation (no more than two drinks a day for men and no more than one drink a day for women – the recommendation from the American Heart Association).
  4. And don’t forget to avoid cigarette smoking!
Get the appropriately vaccination to prevent the infection of hepatitis viruses!

As written before, the hepatitis infection (either hepatitis B or C viruses) can increase the risk of liver cancer.

Fortunately, there is now available vaccine to prevent hepatitis B. This vaccine is helpful enough to provide protection from infection of hepatitis B for both children and adults. Contact a local health department for more detailed information!

But unfortunately there is still no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. The following are pieces of helpful information on how to reduce your risk of getting an infection of hepatitis C viruses:
  1. When getting a tattoo or piercing, make sure all equipments (particularly the needles) are properly sterilized. Unsterilized needles can put you at higher of getting an infection of hepatitis C viruses.
  2. Avoid using intravenous (IV) drugs! One of best options to keep far away from the infection of hepatitis C viruses is to not inject drugs - but if you do, make sure the needle is sterilized and clean, and don’t ever share it with anyone! Consult more with a doctor for in-depth information!
  3. Hepatitis C viruses also can spread through intercourse, therefore it is also important to get to know the health status of your sexual partner to keep safe! If you in doubt to the health status of your partner, stay on the safely intercourse (like with the use of a condom)!
Taking a routinely cancer screening

In general, doctors usually don’t recommend routinely cancer screening for everyone. But for individuals with many risk factors of this cancer, they should take a routinely screening test. 

If you are at high risk of liver cancer (having many risk factors of the disease), consult more with your doctor whether you need to take these screening tests – if so, ask to him /her about how often you should take the test and don’t forget also to ask about pros & cons of the test!