Avoid risk factors that can lead to liver cancer

In general, the average age of onset for liver cancer is 63 years of age, and twice as many men as women develop the disease. In the U.S., liver cancer rates are highest in Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Chronic infections with Hepatitis B or C is the most common liver cancer risk factor. Both Hepatitis B and C can spread from person to person through sharing contaminated needles, unprotected sexual contact, or at childbirth.

There is minimized risk through blood transfusion because blood is tested for these viruses before administration of donor blood. Other factors that increase the risk of liver cancer are obesity, heavy use of alcohol, smoking, use of anabolic steroids used by exercisers and athletes to increase strength and muscle mass, chronic exposure to arsenic and cancer-causing toxins called aflatoxins that are made by a fungus that contaminates wheat, corn, soybeans and some nuts.

Certain chemicals such as vinyl chloride, used in the manufacture of plastics, and thorium dioxide, a chemical used in X-ray testing, can increase the risk of angiosarcoma of the liver.

Cirrhosis of the liver occurs when the liver cells become damaged and are replaced with scar tissue. In up to 90 percent of cases, people who develop liver cancer have underlying cirrhosis. Cirrhosis can be caused by alcohol abuse, chronic Hepatitis B or C infections, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and certain types of inherited metabolic diseases, including genetic hemochromatosis, tyrosinemia, Wilson’s disease and glycogen storage disease.

Obviously, to avoid liver cancer you would want to avoid the known risk factors and get vaccinated against Hepatitis B. Also, if you get a tattoo make sure that the artist uses clean new needles.

Symptoms of liver cancer include jaundice, wherein the skin and eyes yellow, unintentional weight loss, loss of appetite, pain on the right side of the abdomen and pain that occurs in the right shoulder blade.

Diagnosis is made using blood work such as a liver function test, a hepatitis panel, and tumor markers. An ultrasound may be ordered to scan the liver and internal organs. A biopsy is definitive whereby a small tissue sample of the liver is retrieved and then examined to determine if cancer is present.

Treatment of liver cancer differs depending on the stage of the disease. A partial hepatectomy is the surgical removal of the cancerous part of the liver. Standard treatment is chemotherapy, and some treatment plans may include clinical trials of new drugs.

Chemotherapy targets rapidly multiplying cells, and therefore can lead to hair loss as hair follicles also multiply rapidly and are damaged by the drugs. Livers can be transplanted if there is an appropriate donor for the patient. Radio-frequency ablation is the use of a probe that has tiny electrodes that destroy cancer cells.

Lung cancer that spreads to the liver is very common. Nearly 40 percent of people with lung cancer have metastases to other parts of their body. Lung cancer can spread to any part of the body but typically it spreads to the liver, lymph nodes, the brain, the bones and the adrenal glands.

Historically treatment of lung cancer that has spread to the lungs was typically palliative — simply relieve pain and other symptoms rather than trying to cure the disease.

Chemotherapy or targeted therapies may be used to treat stage 4 cancer. Lung cancer that has spread to the liver has a very poor prognosis. The average survival for people living with stage 4 non-small cell metastatic lung cancer is around eight months. The average survival time for people with extensive stage small cell metastatic lung cancer is two to four months without treatment and six to 12 months with treatment.

Both my parents smoked like chimneys and drank. I lost my dad 10 years ago to lung cancer that had metastasized to his lungs. My mom subsequently lived with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) for seven years and went on oxygen 24/7 this past year because of smoking. She died almost to the day 10 years after her husband (my dad) of liver cancer and COPD. The tumors of which grew up quickly in her abdomen and made her already compromised breathing impossible.

Mom passed away just before Christmas this past year. If you do nothing else for your health, I beg you stop smoking completely and stop drinking to excess. It is a horrible way to die.


Jane Riley is a certified personal trainer, certified nutritional adviser, and certified behavior change specialist. She can be reached at janerileyfitness@gmail.com or (808) 212-8119 and www.janerileyfitness.com


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