Cirrhosis: A Hidden Risk Factor for Liver Cancer

The human liver is an unsung hero of the body’s complex system, performing a variety of critical functions that frequently go unnoticed until something goes wrong. Among the numerous risks associated with this remarkable organ, liver cancer and cirrhosis are two of the most common and interconnected diseases. In this article, we aim to explore the intricate relationship between liver cancer and cirrhosis, the many factors that are linked to them and understand the need of early detection and prevention.

The Liver: An essential organ

The liver is an important organ that filters toxins, regulates blood sugar levels, metabolizes lipids and proteins, and produces essential proteins such as albumin and clotting factors. Since it plays such a crucial function, any disruption in its normal operation can result in major health problems.

Cirrhosis: The sign to Liver cancer

Cirrhosis is an irreversible scarring of liver tissue resulting from long-term damage. Chronic alcohol misuse, hepatitis B and C infections, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and other uncommon liver diseases are the principal causes of cirrhosis. Cirrhosis decreases the liver’s ability to operate efficiently.

Cirrhosis and liver cancer are inextricably linked. In the majority of liver cancer cases, approximately 80-90%, occur in people who have cirrhosis. Cirrhosis scar tissue can produce an environment favourable to the growth of cancer cells. Furthermore, the liver’s ongoing attempt to heal itself in reaction to damage might result in DNA alterations, which increases the chance of cancerous cell growth.

Liver Cancer: Types and Symptoms

Liver cancer, commonly known as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), can manifest itself in a variety of ways. HCC is the most prevalent type, however there are other types as well, such as cholangiocarcinoma and angiosarcoma. Unexpected weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), abdominal pain or swelling, and a sense of fullness even after a little meal are all symptoms of liver cancer. Unfortunately, liver cancer is mostly asymptomatic in its early stages, making it difficult to detect until it has advanced significantly.

Screening and Early Detection

Individuals with cirrhosis, hepatitis B or C infections, or a history of high alcohol intake should have regular examinations due to the strong association between cirrhosis and liver cancer. Early detection is essential for increasing the chances of successful treatment. Various imaging procedures, such as ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRI scans, can aid in the detection of liver cancers.

Prevention and Risk Reduction

When it comes to liver cancer and cirrhosis, prevention is always the best approach. Individuals can lower their risk by taking the following steps:

1. Limit Alcohol Consumption: Drinking too much alcohol is a big risk factor for cirrhosis and liver cancer. Reduced or no alcohol consumption can considerably reduce the risk.

2. Vaccination: Hepatitis B and C vaccines are widely accessible and quite effective. These vaccinations have the potential to protect against chronic infections that can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

3. Maintain a Healthy Weight: Cirrhosis is closely linked to obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). A healthy lifestyle which includes a balanced diet and regular exercise, can help prevent this type of disease.

4. Safe Practices: To prevent the spread of hepatitis B and C, practice safe sex and avoid sharing needles.

5. Regular check-ups: Individuals at risk should undergo regular liver function tests and screenings to check their liver health.

Cirrhosis and liver cancer are inextricably linked, with cirrhosis considerably increasing the risk of developing liver cancer. Recognizing the need of early detection through screenings and implementing preventative measures will help to reduce the prevalence of these life-threatening diseases. Understanding the association between liver cancer and cirrhosis allows people to take charge of their liver health, paving the way for a brighter and healthier future.

By Dr. Pinaki Mahato, Consultant – Medical Oncology, HCG Cancer Centre, Vadodara

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