October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month, an important recognition of a type of cancer not many know about. This month calls attention to the fact that there are two types of liver cancer: hepatocellular carcinoma and cholangiocarcinoma. The liver is one of the largest organs in the human body and has many functions. It filters harmful substances from our blood. It also removes worn-out cells and stores our nutrients. The most common liver cancer is the first, hepatocellular. Although it’s still considered a rare cancer in the United States, it’s on the rise! This is mainly due to the spread of the Hepatitis C virus.
What is the Hepatitis virus?
Hepatitis C is an infection that spreads through contaminated blood. It is known to cause liver inflammation and scarring. This can usually lead to severe liver damage and eventually liver cancer. Fortunately, Hepatitis C is treatable and curable if caught early on. Chronic Hepatitis C can be worse, being known as a “silent” infection. This means that symptoms may not be noticeable until there is already extensive liver damage. Keeping an eye on subtle symptoms could help you catch this infection before it becomes chronic. These symptoms include:
- Right upper abdomen discomfort
- Pain near right shoulder blade
- Easy bruising
- Unusual fatigue
- Loss of appetite/unknown weight loss
Hepatitis C isn’t the only way to be at risk for liver cancer. Hepatitis B is another infection that can affect the liver. You can get a vaccination (and probably have) for Hepatitis B, so this is a less common national epidemic. Although Hepatitis B is less prevalent than C, both are potentially dangerous to the liver. The Hepatitis virus can cause cirrhosis, which is scarring of the liver. Alcoholism can also cause this.
What else can cause liver cancer?
A few other health factors can increase the risk of liver cancer, including obesity, diabetes, genetics, and hemochromatosis. You can reduce your risk of liver cancer in a few ways. Getting the vaccination for Hepatitis C is something you can do at most primary care facilities. While Hepatitis C lacks a vaccination, you can get tested and take the necessary steps to treat it. A major way to help your liver and keep it as healthy as possible is to lower alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a substance with very common abuse. Genetics, environment, or a combination of both can cause alcohol addiction.
26,000 people die from liver cancer every year in the United States. While the majority of cases are in men, everyone should be aware of its causes and risk factors. This month, take the time to speak to your children, family, and friends to discuss testing, vaccination, and alcohol abuse. All of these factors are keys to shrinking liver cancer deaths in the country. Take action and be aware this October!
–Madeline Kelly, Digital Communications Coordinator