Even though I am talking about liver cancer, the case is not exactly liver cancer.. but I will get to that later. The liver, our largest internal organ, has very vital function, just like other organs do, and its absence cannot be compensated by any mean. I won't talk about its functions because they are hundreds of them and they can be read anywhere on the web:) So to speak one of the main ones are detoxification, synthesizing of proteins, breaking down fats and producing biochemicals essential for digestion. In short - it is our very own biochemical laboratory :)
The thing is that liver cancer can be either primary or secondary. The primary liver cancer, also called hepatocellular carcinoma or HCC, is most rare to appear, where the carcinoma (another term for cancer) originates from the liver and develops there. Liver cells change (mutate) in their DNA. Cells begin to grow out of control and eventually form a tumor - a mass of cancerous, mutated cells. It is also the 5th most common solid cancer worldwide and the 3rd leading cause of cancer-related death. The secondary liver cancer starts from somewhere else, like other parts of the body and then spreads to the liver, that is metastatic liver cancer. That type of cancer is even harder, since the sick person needs to fight with two or more tumors. Primary liver cancer tends to develop and proceed to the final stage much faster then secondary. Both primary and secondary tend to give metastatic tumors in the brain, which further complicates the things.
The worst part of the primary liver cancer is that it can be hard to catch at the beginning really hard. The initial stages can undergo with few or no symtomps, so it can be quite hard to detect them and for the person carrying it to notice until the cancer is well advanced and signs become visible. (Symptom is something the sick person feels and reports, sign is something others and doctors detect.) The first, most important and most common visible signs and symtomps usually are:
- loosing weight without trying
- continuous loss of appetite
- enlarged liver
- abdomen seems swollen
- weakness and often feeling of fatigue without making too much efforts,
- yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
The continuous loss of appetite can be one of the first signs. The loosing of weight happens slowly and gradually in the first stages and becomes extremely rapid in the final stage, as the liver cancer has 4 stages.
In the final stage the sick person can feel very weak, hard to move, hard to get up, unable to speak or having parts of the body paralyzed due to brain metastasis. Pain might be stronger and control of the pain is very much needed. In the final stage (months to weeks) a lot of care is needed therefore it is more optimal for the sick person to be placed in a hospice - a place that deals with palliative care for terminally ill patients. Daily care and pain control is provided, so that the sick person feel less pain. In my home country Bulgaria, this kind of care is not provided by every public hospital, unless they have a contract with the Health Administration for it. The services there are most often very poor due to lack of good financing from the state, except few places. There is also an option of private hospice, but that can be costly. In the Nordic countries such as Finland and Denmark, those care services are much developed, due to better financing from the state. The health administration can also send social workers to take care of those patients at home, so they don't have to go to a hospice if they don't want to. But the care at the end is very vital since, there is stronger pain, loss of consciousness, possibly falling into coma which might last from few hours to few days.
One way to diagnose liver cancer is through blood tests. Alpha fotoprotein, a type of protein produced by liver tumors, can be detected in a blood test as the levels of alpha fotoprotein tend to be elevated when liver tumor is present. Another way is through MRI (magnetic imaging resonance), CT scan (computerized tomography) and ultrasound.
Risk factors and preventions
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports liver cancer as a cause of death to 30 in 100 000 people worldwide. About half a million of people get diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma yearly. The highest rates of liver cancer are seen in parts of Africa and Asia and less in Europe and North and South America. It usually is seen in people aged 50 or older. It tends to affect more males then females, most commonly reason due to lifestyle - males tend to consume more alcohol which increases the risk.
Since detection in the initial stages can be really hard and treatment in well advanced stages still hopeless, it is better to be aware from some of the risk factors to prevent the contamination of the liver.
The causes of developing a primary liver cancer can be most often hepatitis C (HCV) and hepatitis B (HBV). The name of hepatitis is used to terms related to the liver such as hepato- or hepatic. If infected with hepatitis, the liver gets sick and grows. Even if cured from hepatitis, the liver was already sick and its tends to develop mutated cells - cancer. Well, we all should have our vaccination from early childhood against hepatitis B, so that should make it safer.The vaccine against hepatitis B provides 90% protection. If not yet, we should make one. And so should I, since for some reason I still don't have it. But not against hepatitis C. To date there is not yet vaccination against hepatitis C. Hepatitis C also gets transmitted through sexual contacts.
alcohol consumption is another risk factor. As a matter of fact it is one of
the primary causes as well. One of the most recent research from this year 2012
from an International Agency on Research on Cancer attributed alcohol beverages
''cancerogenic to humans''. That kind of contradicts with the results which
have shown that a glass of red wine a day or a beer is health beneficial?!?
|Risk factors of primary liver cancer|
Somewhere I read though that not the consumption of alcohol itself causes it but the sudden stop of it. Once a person has been excessively consuming alcohol and then stops suddenly, the liver tends to develop cancer cells even if there was no more alcohol consumption in the next 10 years. Well does that mean that even if people keep on consuming alcohol they just should remain that way, because the liver is already so used into processing alcohol? That's is a very interesting case and I should check it out...
The NHS (National Health Service in the UK) reccommends max 3-4 units of alcohol intake per day for men and 2-3 units per day for women.
a small glass of wine - 125 ml is 1.5 units
standard glass of wine - 175 ml is 2.1 units
large glass of wine - 250 ml is 3 units
a pint of lower strenght beer/cider of 3.6% is 2 units
a pint of higher strenght beer/cider of 5.2 % is 3 units
330 ml bottle of beer of 5 % is 1.7 units
a 25 ml single shot of spirit of 40% is 1 unit
Well there is not much one can do if having had a wild past but we could apologise to our liver for it and be gentle to it in the future:)
Another risk factor is obesity and tobacco smoking...( no comments about tobacco smoking from a former smoker!) So to avoid uncomfortable self-critique I will gently skip this and go to the obesity factor... However, I will write more detailed about my former smoking experience in a future post.
So, the accumulation of fats increases the risk of developing liver cancer, and also other types of cancers. The liver needs to fight with escessive fat processing. One way to control obesity is through mantaining a healthy BMI ( Body Mass Index) through activites and nutrition style. In my lovely blog I have added a gadget that helps measure our BMI and says if it is within the healthy norms. It is at the bottom of the page. The Mayo Clininc suggests healthy loss of weight to be slowly with 0.5 to 1 kg per week.
Aflatoxin B1 - a substance produced by fungus. Fungus is an eukaryotic organism that includes mircrorganisms such as yeasts and molds. In other words aflatoxins are produced by molds. Aflatoxin B1 is found usually in wheat, corn, nuts, soybeans and peanuts. Favourable conditions for development present high-moisture envrironment and high temerature. Aflatoxin B1 is the most toxic and among the most cancerogenic ones known. Aflatoxin contamination is more common in developping countries and poor areas, rather then in industrialized nations.
Cirrhosis may be caused by hepatitis B or C and heavy long-term alcohol intake for over a decade. Cirrhosis is the scaring of the liver due to the liver being sick. The cirrhosis presents a significant risk of developping liver cancer.
To prevent developping primary liver cancer, liver screening and regular check-ups help detect the early stages for those at high risk - meaning older then 50 years, living in high risk areas of poorer less developped countries, regular high alcohol intake and having had former hepatitis B or C.
Even though the cure in a more advanced stage is almost hopeless, recently a new step in finding a cure made a headline, about the virus that eats the cancerious cells. Perhaps for certain types of cancer only. The results is still within lab walls, but it looks like a small step forward. Liver transplation and surgery are one of the ways so far to treat a begginner stage of liver cancer. Artificially grown livers are not yet a fact unlike windpipes, since the liver is quite complicated organ. But there are future ambitions for developpment.
In support of cancer research a brave person has undertaken a charity cycling tour from England to Australia and is describing his experiences in his blog Cycling 4 Cancer. Quite interesting to follow his adventures:) Unfortuntately, right now he is stuck with a damaged bike, but hopefully he will resume soon.
Resource : http://www.thenoop.com/search/label/liver%20cancer
Resource : http://www.thenoop.com/search/label/liver%20cancer
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