The liver performs many important tasks to keep the body healthy, such as making sure nutrients are absorbed properly, filtering toxins and other chemical waste, and readying them for excretion. Since all the blood in the body passes through it, cancer cells in the bloodstream can also access the organ.
Many factors affect a person’s susceptibility to develop cancer. Aside from lifestyle habits, other variables that are out of your control can still increase your risk, such as your gender, race, and family history of cancer. Knowing your risk factors is the first step to liver cancer prevention. Discussing these with your doctor may help you make more informed health and lifestyle decisions.
Men are more likely to develop hepatocellular carcinoma than women. Much of this is probably because of behaviors affecting other liver cancer risk factors. Meanwhile, the fibrolamellar subtype of liver cancer is more prevalent in females.
Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans in the United States have the highest rates of liver cancer. Second are the Hispanics/Latinos, America Indians/Alaska Natives, and whites.
Each time your liver is injured – whether by excessive alcohol consumption, disease, or another cause – it tries to repair itself. In the process, scar tissues forms. Cirrhosis develops when liver cells are damaged and replaced by scar tissue, making it difficult for the liver to function (decompensated cirrhosis). The more life-threatening condition is called advanced cirrhosis.
Patients suffering from cirrhosis have a higher chance of developing liver cancer. There are several possible causes of this disease. Most cases in the U.S. occur in people who have chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C infections or abuse alcohol.
Obesity allows more fat deposits in the liver, leading to a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). It’s a common disorder referring to a group of diseases where there is an accumulation of excess fat in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol. Over the past decade, some studies have concluded that NAFLD and diabetes, a related disease, are increasingly important risk factors for hepatocellular carcinoma in the U.S.
These cancer-causing compounds are created by a fungus that contaminates wheat, peanuts, groundnuts, soybeans, rice, and corn. Storing these food items in a humid and warm environment may lead to the growth of the fungus.
Although this fungus can appear almost anywhere in the world, it is more widespread in warmer and tropical countries. Developed countries such as those in Europe and the U.S. regulate the content of aflatoxins in foods through testing. Long-term exposure to these substances may lead to liver cancer, and those who already have hepatitis B or C infections are more at risk.
Type 2 Diabetes
This disorder has been associated with an increased risk of liver cancer, typically in patients who also have other risk factors such as chronic viral hepatitis and/or alcohol abuse. Individuals with type 2 diabetes tend to be obese or overweight, which in turn can cause liver disorders.
Heavy Alcohol Use
Alcohol abuse is a dominant risk factor for liver cancer. A new study suggests that individuals with alcohol-induced liver cancer often do not live as long as those who have the same disorder that is not linked to alcohol consumption. Published in the journal Cancer, the findings indicate that efforts should be made to improve the management of alcohol abuse.
Primary Biliary Cirrhosis
This is a chronic, or long lasting, disorder that causes small bile ducts in the liver to become damaged and inflamed, and ultimately to disappear. The bile ducts carry acids, fats, cholesterol, and fluids. When inflamed, they swell and allows toxic wastes to build up in the liver, damaging surrounding tissues. This damage can lead to cirrhosis and promote liver deterioration.
Chronic Viral Hepatitis
The most pervasive risk factor for liver cancer worldwide is chronic infection with hepatitis B virus. Both hepatitis B and C cause at least 80 percent of all liver cancers. In the U.S., the leading cause is chronic hepatitis C infections because of the greater number of Americans infected.
The virus directly and repeatedly targets the liver. Over time, these attacks can lead to increased scarring of the liver and ultimately, cancer. Although liver cancer most often occurs in people who are already suffering from cirrhosis, individuals with chronic hepatitis B infection can still manifest without the condition. More than half of all liver cancers could be prevented with increased use of hepatitis B vaccine and better treatments for chronic conditions.
Inherited Metabolic Diseases
Some inherited illnesses that result in cirrhosis and liver damage may increase the risk of liver cancer. Individuals with hereditary hemochromatosis absorb large amounts of iron from their food. This nutrient settles in tissues throughout the body, including the liver. When too much iron builds up in this organ, cirrhosis and even cancer may occur.
Consistent intake of water contaminated with naturally occurring arsenic, such as that from some wells, can make the person develop certain types of liver cancer. This is more common in parts of East Asia, but it might also be a concern in some areas of the United States.
Lighting a cigarette creates over 4000 harmful chemicals. It causes a variety of negative effects on organs that have no direct contact with the smoke itself such as the liver. Tobacco use yields chemical substances with cytotoxic potential, increasing fibrosis (thickening and scarring of tissues) and necroinflammation (cell death and congestion).
Since the liver functions as toxin filter for the body, it works harder with heavy smoking. Aside from releasing toxic substances in the liver, smoking decreases the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells. This results in a domino effect on affected areas, creating mass destruction of cells and tissues.
Having one or several risk factors does not mean you are guaranteed to get liver cancer. In fact, some patients who have the disease may have few or no known causes. But while these factors don’t tell us everything, time and again scientists have discovered a correlation between these elements and our likelihood of developing cancer. It’s best to stay informed and consult your doctor for available screening tests.