What is Liver Cancer?
Liver cancer develops when abnormal cells in the liver are formed and begin to grow out of control. There are different kinds of cancer of the liver. The most common one is called Hepatocellular Cancer, but there are others too, including:
- Bile duct cancer
- Hemangiosarcoma (cancer in the cell-lining of blood vessels if the liver)
- Heptoblastoma (rare form of cancer usually found in children under 4 years of age)
As with most cancers, there are both biological and environmental/lifestyle factors that affect the risk of developing liver cancer.
- Gender: Males are more likely to develop liver cancer (though this may also be linked to lifestyles of men compared to women). Women are more likely to develop a certain kind of liver cancer called fibromellar subtypes)
- Ethnicity: People of color, e.g. non-white people, seem to be more at risk of developing liver cancer
- Chronic viral Hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HCV): Globally, the most common risk factor for liver cancer is the presence of chronic HBV and/or HCV infection. Both HBV and HCV can lead to cirrhosis, when healthy liver cells are replaced by scar tissue, which is a major risk for liver cancer.
Conditions causing cirrhosis:
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Primary bilary cirrhosis
- Certain forms of autoimmune diseases that affect the liver
- Inherited metabolic diseases
- Heavy alcohol consumption: Heavy drinking over a long period of time can cause cirrhosis
- Obesity: A very high Body Mass Index (BMI) can cause a fatty liver, which may contribute to cirrhosis
- Type 2 diabetes: patients with type 2 diabetes are often obese which is also a risk factor for cirrhosis and, thus, also liver cancer
- Aflatoxins: Cancer causing substances which are made by a fungus which contaminate certain food crops, such as peanuts, rice, soybeans, wheat and nuts. These fugus can often be found in warm, moist environments and can contaminate crops if not handles or stored in a proper manner. Long term exposure to these fungus is a major risk factor for liver cancer.
- Tobacco use: Smoking and other form of tobacco use may inc the risk of liver cancer.
Avoiding or treating HBV and HCV is one of the most important things you can do. There is a HBV vaccine that is recommended all children and adults get. No current vaccine for HCV exist. Both HBV and HCV can be spread through bodily fluids but can be prevented by practicing safe sex (e.g. condom use) and by never sharing needles (injecting drug users).
For a person who has HCV, there is today a cure that successfully works for most people. There is no cure for HBV, but effective treatment and management of the disease can greatly reduce the virus in the body and thus also reduce the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer.
At Khema International Polyclinic, we offer both the HBV vaccine and HBV/HCV treatment. If you don’t already have the vaccine, make an appointment and we’ll be happy to help. If you are worried, or have question about HBV or HCV, please don’t hesitate to contact us for a consultation.
If you are diagnosed with liver cancer, your doctor will consult you and discuss different treatment options, such as surgery, tumor ablation or embolization, radiation, targeted therapy or chemotherapy. Treatment options available to you will depend on your age, other illnesses you may have, likely success rate of surgery, likelihood of treatment success.