Understanding Liver Cancer — the Causes, Risk Factors

Although primary liver cancer only affects about two percent in the U.S., in many undeveloped countries it is about 50% of all cancers. This is because hepatitis is more prevalent in other countries, and can leave the liver exposed to cancer. All over the world, cancer in the liver affects two times the number of men as it does women. It usually affects people over the age of 50.

To understand what liver cancer is, it is important to first understand the basic functioning of the liver.

The liver is the main detoxification system of the body. It also helps in the conversion process of breaking down nutrients as well as drugs, into chemicals that can be used by the body. The liver has the honor of having all of the body’s blood supply pass through it. Unfortunately, this also makes the liver quite susceptible to cancer cells found in the blood supply.

How does liver cancer form?

Liver cancer can start in the liver, or it can start somewhere else in the body and travel into the liver. Most of the time, liver cancer is not contracted primarily—the cancer originated in a different part of the body.

Types of Liver Cancer

Multiple types of liver tumors can develop as well. This is due to the fact that livers are composed of many different forms of cells. Some can be benign (not cancerous), and some are metastatic (cancerous) and may travel to other body parts.

The liver’s benign tumors include:

  • Hepatic adenoma
  • Focal nodular hyperplasia
  • Hemangioma

These benign tumors are usually treated by surgery, if they are causing complications such bleeding or pain. Otherwise, there may be no need for any treatment at all.

The cancerous types of liver tumors are:

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma or as many may know it by the term (HCC).
  • Cholangiocarcinoma. This type of cancer affects the bile ducts.

Liver Cancer: Causes and Risk Factors

Hepatocellular carcinoma or primary liver cancer, is found most often in those with livers damaged by such events as alcohol or substance abuse, hepatitis B and C, those with birth defect related liver damage, cirrhosis and a condition known as hemochromatosis. In hemochromatosis there is too much iron in the liver. Approximately 50% of those diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma also have cirrhosis. This cirrhosis is usually caused by the same sources as the primary liver cancer.

Often, herbicides, pesticides and certain chemicals that contain arsenic and vinyl chloride, have been associated with the formation of liver cancer. Cigarette smoking or smoking in general, will also increase the risk. Even plant mold, known as aflatoxins, can often be found on rice, corn, wheat, peanuts, and even soybeans. This is a form of contamination of these plants.

A few other risk factors for liver cancer are:

  • Use of anabolic steroids.
  • The liver cancer and diabetes link.
  • Males are far more likely to contract primary liver cancer than are females.

On a positive note, millions of coffee drinkers around the world will be glad to know that the consumption of coffee may provide a degree of a projection against the formation of liver cancer.

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