When you think of October and cancer, chances are visions of pink ribbons, pink shirts, and pink athletic gear across Orange County come to mind. Certainly, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is important and is the subject of the majority of cancer awareness events. But did you know that October is also the awareness month for the largest organ in your body – the liver?
Emerald green is the cancer awareness color for Liver Cancer Awareness month and coordinates with the theme “Choose Hope.” Merchandise like “No One Fights Alone” wristbands, “Hope” rings, and green ribbons can be purchased to help support and bring awareness to this deadly disease. The latest stats from the American Cancer Society estimate that more than 42,000 cases of liver cancer will be diagnosed in 2018 in the United States, 73 percent of them in men. Of those diagnosed, more than 30,000 will not survive.
Why Is The Liver Important?
Although you may not think or talk about your liver, it is always working in your body to perform several vital functions. Your liver processes and stores many of the nutrients absorbed from the intestine, makes some of the clotting factors needed to stop bleeding from a cut or injury, and secretes bile into the intestine to help absorb nutrients. The liver also plays an important part in removing toxic wastes from the body. Because the liver is made up of several different types of cells, several types of tumors can form in the liver. Some of these are cancerous and some are benign (not cancerous).
Types of Liver Cancer & The Risks
There are two primary types of liver cancer – a cancer that starts inside the liver in the hepatocytes, called hepatocellular carcinoma; and a cancer that starts in the cells that line the bile ducts called cholangiocarcinoma. Oftentimes, cancers from other parts of the body travel into the liver, called metastatic liver cancer. Doctors do not know the cause of liver cancer, but scientists believe that people with certain risk factors are more likely to develop the disease such as:
- Gender: Men are twice as likely as women to get liver cancer.
- Obesity: Obesity increases the risk of developing liver cancer.
- Family history: People who have family members with liver cancer may be more likely to get the disease.
- Viral infection: The most important risk factor for liver cancer is a chronic infection (on-going) with the hepatitis B or the hepatitis C virus. These viruses can be passed from person to person through blood (such as sharing needles) or sexual contact. A baby may catch these viruses from an infected mother. Liver cancer can develop after many years of infection with the viruses.
- Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis is a disease that develops when liver cells are damaged and replaced with scar tissue. It may be caused by alcohol abuse, certain drugs or chemicals and certain viruses or parasites.
- Smoking and alcohol: There is a link between smoking and liver cancer. The risk may be even greater for people who also abuse alcohol.
- Aflatoxin: Liver cancer can be caused by aflatoxin, a harmful substance made by certain types of fungus that can contaminate peanuts, wheat, soybeans, ground nuts, corn and rice. Long-term exposure to aflatoxins increases the risk of liver cancer.
How To Detect Liver Cancer
Unfortunately, many of the early symptoms of liver cancer are also the symptoms for other common illnesses so liver cancer is often not diagnosed at an early stage when it can be more successfully treated. The following symptoms of liver cancer can also be caused by other types of cancer. It is important to seek medical advice of you or a loved one has any of these symptoms:
- unexplained weight loss
- on-going lack of appetite
- fullness after a small meal
- a swollen liver or a mass that can be felt in the area of the liver
- ongoing stomach pain extending to the back and shoulder
- a swollen abdomen
- yellow-green color to the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- increased symptoms of illness in those who have chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis
How Can You Prevent Liver Cancer
While there is no sure-fire way to prevent liver cancer, doctors believe that you can lower your risk for developing it by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, weight control, and a healthy diet with limited amounts of alcohol. It’s also important to avoid infection with the hepatitis B and C viruses. All children and high risk adults should have the hepatitis B vaccination. Avoid exposure to hepatitis C by knowing the way it spreads (blood transfusions, sharing contaminated needles by IV drug abusers and having unprotected sex). Studies suggest that the drugs interferon and ribavarin may prevent the development of liver cancer in people who have hepatitis C. Quit smoking.
Liver Cancer Treatment in Orange County
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with liver cancer, there are various treatments available that provide hope for a longer life expectancy. Liver cancer treatment includes surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and various types of radiation treatment. Orange County CyberKnife Radiation & Oncology Center offers the most advanced radiation treatments available for liver cancer. One of the newest technologies, the CyberKnife non-surgical treatment option, combines a robotic arm with pinpoint imaging to track your cancerous tumors with direct high-doses of radiation that allow the healthy tissue to remained unharmed. OC CyberKnife’s world-renowned team of medical professionals will answer your questions and explain the treatment options based on your individual diagnosis. Remember to wear green and “choose hope” this October as we promote of this deadly disease throughout the country.
For more information about liver cancer awareness, diagnosis and treatment, contact:
Orange County CyberKnife Radiation & Oncology Center
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
American Liver Foundation
Phone: 800-GO-LIVER (465-4837)
Phone: 888.4HEP.USA (443-7872)