Primary Liver Cancer: Prevention

Most liver cancers are metastatic, i.e., they involve the liver secondarily after initial development & growth in a distant site. Of those few malignancies that are native or primary to the liver, the most common is hepatocellular carcinoma ("hepatoma"). 

Risk factors for hepatoma include cirrhosis, diabetes, BRCA 1 & 2 gene mutations, aflatoxin exposure, alcohol abuse, & smoking but worldwide, the most common cause of hepatoma is chronic hepatitis virus infection. Of 6 known types, hepatitis B (HBV) & C (HCV) viruses are the main culprits & they are usually acquired via contaminated blood or needles in the context of tranfusions, tattooing, or drug abuse. Further, HBV is endemic in Asia and may also be sexually-transmitted, infecting even fetuses in utero. Once malignant transformation has set in, only surgery can provide a possible cure. Sadly, this is possible only for a few, since the infected liver may not have enough reserves to sustain a complete tumor resection (matched organ donors are hard to find), the tumors may be too numerous, involve more than one lobe, or are already affecting blood supply. All other treatments– chemotherapy, experimental targeted therapy, chemo-embolization, tumor ablation by RFA (unless tiny), radioisotopes etc– are in the realm of palliation.

How to protect yourself from hepatoma? Well, common sense says that one should avoid the risk factors under our control, including most substances that can damage the liver– drugs, excessive alcohol, pesticides, toxins. Use only sterile needles with your meds, insist upon properly screened blood products when transfusions are prescribed, and think hard before tattooing/piercing. Know the virus status of a sexual partner (tough without screening). Most important of all: vaccines exist for HBV that provide almost total protection for years. Even infants can be immunized– and they should be.

The easiest kind of "cancer treatment" is always prevention.


Previous Comments

Myself I have a secondary liver cancer, which is in my cse not curable, yet I keep myself awake by blogging about it to everybody (since the amount of visitors I get at home is soooo little)
A very big hug!
How the pain was getting too much at:
Posted by See Kim at December 7, 2006, 1:00 pm

I thought of one more risk factor for primary liver cancer to share with your readers.
Hemochromatosis, or “iron overload syndrome”, is an additional cause of liver cancer, and affects one in 200 individuals in the United States. In reviewing your family history, ask if anyone has developed liver disease that was not related to hepatitis or alcohol abuse. Also ask if anyone has ever been told they have an elevated iron level.
Usually hemochromatosis is asymptomatic until serious heart or liver disease is present. Treatment is available that includes phebotomy (periodically “donating” blood to lower iron levels).
Thanks for your review and helping raise awareness!
Lynne Eldridge M.D.
Author, “Avoiding Cancer One Day At A Time”
Posted by Lynne Eldridge M.D. at March 6, 2007, 9:40 am

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