Liver, the largest glandular organ of human body is responsible for maintaining the overall health. It performs over 500 vital functions, including producing bile, a fluid that is important for digestion. In addition, liver also filters blood that circulates through the body, stores sugar called glucose and removes toxins and chemical wastes.
Thus, liver performs functions that are vital for good health and long life.
What is liver cancer?
Of all cancer types, liver cancer or hepatic cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide. It is the most common types of cancer in men.
Technically, only cancer that originates in the liver is termed as liver cancer. And if it spreads from outside the liver to the organ through bloodstream, the condition is termed as liver metastasis or secondary liver cancer.
Is liver cancer fatal?
This depends on multiple factors such as the size of the liver cancer, the number of lesions, the presence of spread beyond the liver, the health of the surrounding liver tissue, and the general health of the patient. Besides, even if liver cancer is successfully treated, it may never go away completely, so follow-up in liver cancer cases is very important.
What is primary liver cancer?
Only if cancer cells originate and multiply in the liver, it is referred as liver or primary liver cancer. These can be either malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous) tumor.
Liver Cancer Causes
Exact liver cancer causes are not yet known, however, in some cases, liver cancers are either believed to be a result of changes (mutations) in their DNA or are said to have links to liver cirrhosis or chronic hepatitis infections. But sometimes, liver cancer happens in people with no underlying diseases and therefore, it’s still not clear how liver cancer is caused.
What are some of the liver cancer risk factors?
Although several liver cancer reasons and risk factors are known, but what makes normal liver cells to become cancerous is only partially understood.
Primary factors that increase the risk factors of liver cancer include:
- Chronic infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV)
- Cirrhosis, a progressive and irreversible condition
- Certain genetic liver diseases, such as, Wilson’s disease
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- Exposure to aflatoxins. It is a poison produced by fungi that grow on crops such as peanuts, cottonseed, nuts, etc.
- Excess consumption of alcohol
Is liver cancer hereditary?
This is the most common question that hovers over people’s mind. So, yes, cancers can be caused by DNA changes (mutations), which can result in abnormal cell growth. Basically, DNA changes can turn on the oncogenes in our body or turn off tumor suppressor genes, thereby causing cancer.
What is DNA and how are genes responsible to cause cancer?
When it comes to understanding of liver cancer, one question that tops our mind is: Is liver cancer genetic? Or, if it runs in the family?
DNA is the hereditary material in our cells that carries our genes. So beyond our looks and our features, these genes also control when a cell grows, divides and eventually dies.
Genes that promote cells to grow and divide are called oncogenes. Whereas genes that keep cell division under control, fix error in DNA, or cause cells to die at the right time are called tumor suppressor genes.
So, while the genes play only a minor role, it’s the patient’s family history that may increase their risk of liver cancer.
But besides genes, certain chemicals such as aflatoxins and hepatitis virus are also known to damage the DNA in liver cells, thereby increasing risk of liver cancer.
Are there any factors that may lower an individual’s risk of liver cancer?
Since chronic hepatitis B infection can lead to liver cirrhosis which increases risk of liver cancer, getting vaccinated against the hepatitis B virus may protect individuals from liver cancer caused by the virus. Also, if an individual seeks proper treatment for hepatitis virus when infected or take proper precautions, it can certainly lower one’s risk of developing liver cancer.