October has us all thinking pink, but did you know October is also Liver Cancer Awareness Month?
Although liver cancer is relatively rare in the United States, it is one of the deadliest forms of cancer. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of liver cancer and one of the few cancers whose incidence is actually increasing, having tripled since 1980. The good news is that by knowing and modifying certain factors, you can reduce your risk.
Risk factors for HCC include cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver; chronic hepatitis C or B infection; fatty deposition of liver, either from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) or excessive alcohol use; and certain inherited diseases like hemochromatosis, a condition where your body takes up and stores more iron than is needed.
Hepatitis B and C are viral infections that can cause inflammation of your liver, leading to cirrhosis over time. Today, most cases of hepatitis C can be cured with oral medications, thereby preventing long-term complications. However, most people with hepatitis C don’t even realize they are infected and therefore don’t seek treatment.
So, who is at risk? People born between 1945 and 1964 are at high risk and should be tested. Hepatitis C is transmitted by blood, so other risk factors are a history of illicit IV drug use and blood transfusion prior to 1992, amongst others. Hepatitis B is spread through blood and body fluids and also can be treated. In addition, a vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis B. Talk to your doctor to see whether you should be tested for hepatitis C and/or B and whether you should be vaccinated against hepatitis B.
Fatty liver disease also can cause chronic liver inflammation. Obesity and diabetes are risk factors for this. Adopting healthy lifestyle habits like regular exercise and weight control can lower your risk. Excessive alcohol intake also can cause fatty deposition in the liver, leading to cirrhosis. So if you drink alcohol, it’s best to drink in moderation. That’s one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men, with no more than five drinking days per week.
Liver cancer is treatable, and even curable, when caught early. If you already have a condition that increases your risk, talk to your doctor to see if you are a candidate for liver cancer screening, which can find cancer at an early stage and increase the chance of cure.
The more people know about HCC and its risk factors, the better we can work to effectively prevent, diagnose and treat it. So, this October, think green as well as pink!
Dr. Pamela Tuli is a hematologist-oncologist practicing with The Medical Oncology Group – Memorial Physician Clinics. She can be contacted at (228)-575-1234.