A diagnosis of liver cancer confuses many patients because so many cancers -- forming in organs such as the stomach, colon and pancreas -- often spread rapidly and metastasize in the liver. But a cancerous liver is separate issue from a cancer that develops in the liver -- and this is the disease that oncologists are seeing with more and more regularity. They refer to this type of cancer as Primary Liver Cancer.
The liver is the large organ, located in the abdomen, that functions in the same way as a gland. Like a great processing plant, the liver stores and disposes of nutrients and toxins, metabolizes substances used by the body and produces a host of proteins used by the blood for clotting. It is an essential organ in the healthy functioning of the body, and when it becomes diseased, many complications ensue. The patient may feel bloated and full, take on a yellow (jaundiced) hue, and experience pain and fever.
There are several factors contributing to the rising cases of liver cancer in North America. The first is the viral infections Hepatitis B and C, which are silent diseases spread by infected blood. Because these diseases can take up to 30 years to result in primary liver cancer, the rates of cancer are only starting to increase now. Awareness of Hepatitis infections have grown immeasurably over the years, and Hepatitis B vaccinations are reducing the prevalence of the disease. There is currently no protection against Hepatitis C, and it is becoming common amongst intravenous drug users. It can also be passed along through unprotected sex, and improperly sanitized tattoo or body-piercing needles.
Cirrhosis (or scarring) of the liver is most commonly caused by alcohol abuse, and long-term cirrhosis is perhaps the greatest cause of primary liver cancer. The cancer develops a decade or so after the patient has stopped drinking, when the liver begins to generate new cells around the scarring.
Lesser causes of liver cancer including a fungus produced poison called aflotoxin B (a problem in developing nations, but not here) and exposure to certain industrial chemicals. Overall, lifestyle is, more often than not, the main influence for the development of primary liver cancer. So, how can it be avoided?
Heavy drinking or any other excessive consumption that leads to the scarring of the liver must be avoided (rampant use of the anti-inflammatory ibuprofen is another example). The disease often starts years after these activities are halted. Tattooing and piercing need to be regarded as high risk activities -- especially for contracting Hepatitis B or C. Needles need to be properly sanitized before they are reused, and a reputable practitioner should be used for these activities.
More and more, doctors are noting that lifestyle plays a role in cancer rates. Prevention, they tell us, is far easier than cure.