Healthy Living

Can Liver Diseases Lead to Liver Cancer?

Can Liver Diseases Lead to Liver Cancer?

Key Takeaways

  • The liver is among the most valuable and life-sustaining organs in the body.
  • Liver diseases happen when the liver gets damaged and unable to perform its functions. 
  • Although most liver diseases have the potential to cause liver cancer, it is also important to note that many of them are treatable and that they are not life-threatening in their early stages.

What is a liver disease?

Liver disease refers to medical complications that cause the liver to be damaged, making it unable to perform its functions properly. The liver is among the most valuable and life-sustaining organs in the body. The reason is that it carries out many important functions that help sustain life.

Some of the liver functions include:

  • Detoxification - involves the removal or neutralization of harmful substances in the body. Before food is allowed to be transported to the whole body, it has to pass first through the liver to be detoxified.
  • Deamination - is the breakdown of excess amino acids in proteins so that they can be transported to the kidneys in the form of urea and to be excreted in the urine.
  • Bile production - the liver also produces bile, which is used in the emulsification of fats.
  • Plasma protein synthesis - plasma protein production is one of the liver's specialized functions.

The liver is a body organ that performs many functions. That is why the liver is one of the most exposed organs to injuries.

How many diseases of the liver are there?

There are hundreds of diseases of the liver and each one of them poses threats of different magnitudes. There are liver conditions that are inherited. Some people may develop liver diseases due to poor choices of lifestyle (e.g., binge drinking of alcohol) while others come about due to other reasons such as accidents or viral infections.

Examples of some of the diseases that affect the liver include:

The question is, can these diseases result in the development of liver cancer? The answer to that question is yes, they can. There are quite a number of liver diseases that if not treated quickly and adequately, they can progressively lead the person from getting cancer of the liver. The following are some of the common liver diseases:

1. Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is a medical condition in which scarred tissues develop within the liver and replace the healthy liver tissues. It can be caused by other diseases of the liver or extreme intake of alcoholic substances. Cirrhosis can lead to failure of the liver, blockage of ducts, and eventually, causes liver cancer.

2. Viral Hepatitis

The hepatitis virus B (HBV) and C (HCV) are some of the most common causes of liver cancer in the world when they infect an individual over a long period of time (chronic hepatitis). These viruses cause liver cirrhosis, which with time develops into liver cancer.

People with HCV are more likely to get liver cancer than those with HBV. The risk is also higher for those who take alcohol. The two viruses are easily spread across individuals through various means such as sexual intercourse, exposure to infected bodily fluids, sharing of used needles, and during childbirth.

Unfortunately, hepatitis C has no cure, and therefore, the only way to keep it from causing liver cancer is to contain its spread. On the other hand, people with Hepatitis B can get cured of the disease after some time.

3. Fatty Liver Disease

This condition mostly affects obese people but it can also develop in heavy drinkers. Affected persons can develop cirrhosis and eventually get liver cancer.

4. Hereditary Liver Diseases

There are some liver diseases that are sometimes passed on from parents to their children. Some of them will end up causing liver cancer if they are not dealt with at an early stage. Examples of such diseases include tyrosinemia and hemochromatosis.

Hemochromatosis is caused by an extreme accumulation of iron in the liver. When the iron reaches sufficient quantities, the condition can cause cirrhosis and finally, cancer of the liver may set in.

5. Other Rare Conditions

There are other medical conditions of the liver that do occur in a few people as they are extremely rare. However, they have been known to cause liver cancer, too. Among the diseases include Reye’s syndrome and Wilson's disease.

Reye’s syndrome is a disease that mainly affects the liver and brain in addition to other parts of the body. In the liver, it causes deposition of fats, abnormal liver functioning, and blood clotting complications as a result of liver failure. If left untreated, there is a possibility that it will cause liver cancer.

Wilson's disease, on the other hand, is inherited. People with Wilson's disease have an excessive accumulation of copper in some of their vital organs such as the brain and liver. When the disease is diagnosed early, it can be treated. However, if it is not detected early enough, it can also cause liver cancer.

Complications of the Bile Duct

Sometimes, the bile duct may develop problems, which lead to the retention of the bile juice in the liver. In adults, this mostly happens when the ducts become inflamed or when they are blocked. Children may have more complex issues such as the absence of bile ducts. These problems can cause cirrhosis and can pave the way to develop liver cancer.

Other Causes of Liver Cancer

Aside from diseases of the liver, liver cancer can be caused by other factors. Such factors include:

  • other medical complications such as type 2 diabetes
  • aflatoxins
  • smoking (the risk is even higher for those with diseases of the liver)
  • prolonged use of anabolic steroids
  • heavy intake of alcohol

Tips on Avoiding Liver Cancer

There are a number of things that you can do to ensure that you minimize your chances of getting liver cancer due to liver diseases. Some of the things include:

  • Being aware of your family's medical history - is extremely important because your family's medical history will help you know if there is someone in the family who had a liver disease. Therefore, you will be able to predict if you or your child may be at risk to have it. Seek medical attention early before any hereditary disease can cause liver cancer.
  • Quit smoking and taking alcohol - if you have a liver disease. Smoking and drinking alcohol can increase your chances of getting liver cancer if you already have a liver disease.
  • Get treated early - many of the liver diseases can be easily treated during the early stages. People who have a liver disease tend to get better before they become chronic to the point of causing liver cancer. If you suspect that you have symptoms of any of the mentioned diseases, see a doctor immediately for an accurate diagnosis.
  • Healthy lifestyle - exercising, eating fruits and foods that promote the recovery of the liver will help you stay healthy. By changing your unhealthy lifestyle, you can prevent the increase of fats in your body, thus, minimizing the chances of developing a fatty liver disease.

The Bottom Line

Although most liver diseases have the potential to cause liver cancer, it is also important to note that many of them are treatable and that they are not life-threatening in their early stages.

If you have a liver disease, consult with your doctor if you have any fears concerning liver cancer so that you will be informed and have your doubts cleared. You can also agree with your doctors on the various tests that will be carried out to check if there is any trace of liver cancer cells.