What is the main function of the liver?
The liver serves as one of the most useful organs in the human body. It carries out many important functions that help sustain life and keep balance within the body. The liver does the following functions:
- Secretes bile juice, which is a crucial digestive enzyme.
- Helps in converting any excess proteins into urea for excretion from the body.
- Synthesizes plasma proteins.
- In unborn babies, the liver is also involved in manufacturing, storing, and destroying red blood cells (RBCs).
- Aids in counteracting toxins in the body.
The importance of the liver is one that cannot be compared, which means that the development of liver complications can be a threat to human life.
What causes most cases of liver cancer?
There are quite a number of triggering factors for liver cancer. Examples of such factors may include:
- Other underlying medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes
- Hereditary disorders of the liver such as hemochromatosis and tyrosinemia
- Heavy consumption of alcoholic drinks over a long period of time
- Increased old age
As you grow older, you are more likely to develop complications that will result in liver cancer. However, the main cause of liver cancer across most parts of the world is due to attacks from specific types of the hepatitis virus. These viruses include hepatitis B and hepatitis C, which are also known as HBV and HCV respectively.
Hepatitis C is the major cause of liver cancer in the West (for example, in a country like the USA), while hepatitis B is more prevalent in Asian countries. Most people get infected by one of the viruses, but there are cases in which people can have both viral infections. Such people are at a higher risk of getting liver cancer. The reason is that their likelihood of getting chronic hepatitis is way higher and will eventually result in the growth of cancerous tissues in the liver.
How are hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses spread?
These two diseases are mostly transferred to people through infected body fluids such as blood. You can get these infections through:
- Sharing of contaminated needles mostly by drug users
- During childbirth (babies may get it from their infected mothers)
- Unprotected sex
- Blood transfusion (if the blood is not screened before it is transfused)
- Being in contact with an infected person over a prolonged period also makes you more susceptible to contracting the disease, especially in the case of children.
A point to note is that both hepatitis viruses are not transmitted through kissing, breastfeeding, or sharing food and drinks with infected people.
Symptoms Related to the Cause of Liver Cancer
Hepatitis is the main cause of liver cancer. For you to be able to prevent liver cancer, it is important to prevent hepatitis in the first place. But, how will you know if you have hepatitis?
If the symptoms of hepatitis B can be identified early enough, one will be better equipped when it comes to dealing with liver cancer. Here are some of its symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in the color of the urine or feces
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal pain
Not all patients experience these symptoms. In some cases, they do not feel any changes at all. However, if you experience them or feel as if you have been exposed to the virus, then seek immediate medical attention.
Hepatitis C often does not show symptoms in its early stages. When it does, it is usually in the chronic stage and the symptoms will be similar to those of hepatitis B.
To prevent the possibilities of having liver cancer, hepatitis should be diagnosed in time before it develops into cancer.
Hepatitis B is usually diagnosed through physical examination along with blood tests. If the condition is chronic, then a biopsy may be done to determine how severe it is.
Hepatitis C, on the other hand, requires more complex methods of diagnosis. First, blood is screened for the presence of antibodies that fight HCV. If they are found, then a test for the presence of HCV ribonucleic acid is done to check if the disease is in its chronic stage. A liver biopsy can then follow to check on the damage level the HCV has had on the liver. In most cases, diagnosis of hepatitis, especially if it is in the late stage, can help identify the risk of liver cancer.
Hepatitis B Treatment
For patients with the hepatitis B virus, the doctor may prescribe drugs that will help boost their immune system to help fight the disease. This is mainly done for patients with chronic HBV.
There are also vaccines available for this type of hepatitis. They mostly help if you have been exposed to the virus within two weeks and also for newborn babies to avoid transmission of the virus from the mother to the baby. If a newborn baby does not receive immediate medical attention, he or she may end up getting extreme long-term liver complications.
HCV is also treated using drugs. Unfortunately, for this type of hepatitis, no vaccine has yet been discovered. There are patients who naturally get better within six months of infection. However, this makes up less than 20 percent of the infected patients. The rest of the afflicted will have to seek medical attention.
If you receive treatment against hepatitis in good time before it develops, your risk of getting liver cancer is reduced.
Tips on Preventing Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C
- Get vaccinated against HBV if you are not yet infected.
- Always make use of condoms whenever you engage in sexual intercourse.
- If you are dealing with infected patients, ensure you put on protective gears such as gloves to avoid coming into contact with their body fluids such as blood.
- Blood should be screened first before it is transfused into a patient to avoid transmitting the virus.
- Avoid sharing sharp instruments such as needles, ear piercing tools, and razors.
The Bottom Line
HBV and HCV may not necessarily cause liver cancer. If they are diagnosed early enough, they can be treated and prevented from causing further damage to the liver. The goal of such treatments may involve preventing the further development of cirrhosis, which can easily lead to liver cancer.
Patients should also quit smoking and drinking alcohol as they increase a person’s chances of getting liver cancer. Consult with your doctor on the various ways you can manage your disease until you have completely recovered. Schedule regular checkups to ensure that you are scanned for any recurrences of the condition.