Be Proactive About Liver CancerLiver Health
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
If you have been following the news lately, you may have seen the alarming report from the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Liver cancer deaths in the United States have increased by more than 40 percent in the past 16 years - even as mortality rates for all cancers combined have declined.
This increase is seen across the board for men, women, whites, black and hispanics. The only groups that saw a decrease in mortality from liver cancer were asians and pacific islanders. It is also worth noting that the death rate from liver cancer for men is up to 2.5 times more than women, although survival rates for men and women are about the same.
As concerning as these statistics are, the first thing you need to know is that they do not mean that liver cancer is deadlier now than it was 16 years ago. In fact, the survival rate for this cancer hasn’t changed much over the intervening years. Indications are that the increased mortality is linked to more people being diagnosed with liver cancer – about 42,000 this year – than before. In other words, it is now more widespread with more people developing it. Because of this increase, liver cancer has now become the sixth-leading cause of cancer death, up from the ninth-leading cause, claiming about 30,000 lives annually.
Exactly What is Liver Cancer
Liver cancer, like other cancers, begins when the natural life cycle of cells is disrupted in some way. Usually, our cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When those cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place. However, when cancer develops, old and damaged cells survive, and new cells form when they are not needed. These extra cells divide without stopping and may become cancerous. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancerous and spread to other areas of the body.
The liver is the largest organ in your body and has a variety of cells. It can also develop different types of cancerous tumors which have different causes. Knowing the causes can help you take steps to minimize your risk of developing these different cancers. The ones you most need to know about are:
- Hepatocellular: This is a common liver cancer. (It is different from metastatic liver cancer, which usually starts in another organ and spreads to the liver). While it can take different forms, the most prevalent in the United States seems to start as multiple cancerous growths throughout the liver rather than beginning as a single tumor. It is caused primarily by cirrhosis of the liver.
- Bile Duct: Accounting for up to 20 percent of liver cancers, it starts in the cells that line the bile ducts that carry bile to the gallbladder. For more information about this type of cancer, visit The Bili Project Foundation, which is dedicated to reducing the incidence and improve outcomes of this type of liver cancer.
- Angiosarcoma and Hemangiosarcoma: Rare cancers that start in the cells lining the blood vessels of the liver. Unfortunately, this cancer is aggressive, and it is very hard to treat.
- Hepatoblastoma: Another rare cancer that usually develops in children under four years old. Two of every three children diagnosed with this cancer are treated successfully.
- Secondary Liver Cancer: In the United States, cancers found in the liver more often started in another organ and then spread to the liver rather than starting in the liver. Known as secondary cancers, they are named based on where they originated. Their treatment is also based on the original cancer location.
How to be Proactive in Preventing Liver Cancer
Liver cancer usually does not just “appear” on its own and typically develops after you’ve had some form of liver disease, or another disease that impacts your liver, for some time. Research has also shown that approximately 70 percent of liver cancers can be traced back to risk factors that you can minimize, in some cases even prevent, including:
- Obesity: Can result in fatty liver disease, cirrhosis and diabetes. If you’re overweight, talk with a competent healthcare practitioner about a diet-and-weight-loss program.
- Smoking: Increases your risk for liver cancer as well as other cancers, such as lung cancer. If you smoke, stop. You can call your local American Cancer Society for help and suggestions.
- Diabetes: Combined with risk factors such as heavy alcohol use increases risk. If you are pre-diabetic or diabetic, carefully follow your doctor’s advice on how to best manage these conditions. If you are not sure if you are diabetic or pre-diabetic, ask your healthcare provider for a test.
- Excess Alcohol Consumption: The leading cause of cirrhosis of the liver. For help with a drinking problem, talk with your healthcare provider, spiritual advisor, trusted friend or contact Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Hepatitis B: One of the most significant risk factors for liver cancer and a cause of cirrhosis. Generally hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. Ask your healthcare provider if the Hepatitis B vaccine would be appropriate for you. If you do have Hepatitis B, be sure to follow your doctor’s recommended treatment plan.
- Hepatitis C: One of the most significant risk factors and a cause of cirrhosis especially with baby boomers who are significantly more likely than other adults to have hepatitis C. Talk with your doctor about screening for hepatitis C (there currently is no vaccine but it can be treated).
If you’re not already exercising, consider starting an exercise program. In addition to its other many benefits, exercise may reduce your risk of getting liver – and other – cancers. You should also consider adding or continuing to include the following foods in your diet given their role in promoting a healthy liver:
- Coffee and tea
- Grapefruit, blueberries and cranberries
- Prickly pears
- Beetroot juice
- Nuts and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli
- Fatty fish and olive oil
Also do what you can to avoid toxins and other substances that can increase your risk for liver cancer, including:
- Vinyl chloride and thorium dioxide, compounds used in industrial applications
- Aflatoxins found in foods
- Anabolic steroids used by some to enhance athletic performance
- Arsenic sometimes found in drinking water and other compounds
By making some common-sense lifestyle decisions and having a healthy diet, you can take the right steps to reduce your risk of liver cancer.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.