Avoid and Treat Hepatitis Infections
The most significant risk factor for liver cancer is chronic infection with hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus. These viruses can spread from person to person through sharing contaminated needles and through unprotected sex, so some of these cancers may be prevented by not sharing needles and by using safer sex practices (such as consistent use of condoms).
A vaccine to help prevent hepatitis B infection has been available since the early 1980s. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all children, as well as adults at risk (health care workers, those whose behaviors may put them at risk, etc.) get this vaccine to reduce the risk of hepatitis and liver cancer.
There are also a number of drugs can be used to treat chronic hepatitis B. These drugs have been shown to reduce the number of viruses in the blood and lessen liver damage. Although they do not cure the disease, they lower the risk of cirrhosis and might lower the risk of liver cancer, as well. More recently drugs have been shown to be very effective against the hepatitis C virus.
- Limit alcohol and tobacco use: Alcohol abuse is a major cause of cirrhosis, which can lead to liver cancer. Preventing liver cancers linked with alcohol abuse remains a challenge. Quitting smoking might also slightly lower the risk of liver cancer, as well as many other life-threatening diseases.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Avoiding obesity might be another way to help protect against liver cancer. People who are obese are more likely to have fatty liver disease and diabetes, both of which have been linked to liver cancer.
- Limit exposure to cancer-causing chemicals: Most developed countries also have regulations to protect consumers and workers from certain chemicals known to cause liver cancer. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits the allowable level of arsenic in drinking water in the United States. But this may continue to be a problem in areas of the world where naturally occurring arsenic commonly gets into drinking water.
- Surveillance for liver cancer: People with a higher risk of developing liver cancer, including those with chronic hepatitis B or C, alcoholic cirrhosis, a family history of primary liver cancer or hemochromatosis, biliary cirrhosis, or alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency, should see a liver specialist at Providence Saint Johns for liver cancer surveillance. A blood test that measures levels of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), a protein produced by the liver, is a sensitive test for primary liver cancer. Other blood tests such as carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) can be elevated in colon cancer that has spread to the liver (colorectal liver metastases).Abdominal ultrasound imaging is another effective screening test for the early detection of primary liver cancer. When performed every six months, these tests can help identify liver cancer at an early, and treatable, stage in people with a higher risk of developing liver cancer.