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Liver Cancer in Patients With Cirrhosis

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The liver is one of the most important parts of the body. It functions to regulate the composition of blood such as proteins, fat and sugar. It also removes toxins such as bilirubin, ammonia and other toxins. It also processes some nutrients absorbed by the intestines to be converted into forms that can be used by the body. It also functions to store nutrients such as vitamin A, iron and other minerals. It also produces cholesterol, proteins such as albumin, clotting factors and other substances needed by the body. It also metabolizes alcohol and many drugs. The liver is involved with the detoxification of harmful substances in the body by purifying blood and manufacturing important nutrients.

This is why we have to take care of liver in any way we can.

Liver Cirrhosis

One of the most common liver diseases is cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is an abnormal liver condition which leads to irreversible scarring of the liver. Causes of cirrhosis include viral hepatitis, alcohol consumption, fatty liver and other factors. Cirrhosis can give rise to yellowing of the skin, tongue and eyes, along with itching and fatigue. Cirrhosis if long-term can cause liver damage. In this condition, the liver is replaced by scar tissue and if it becomes serious, blood flow to the liver may be blocked, causing liver dysfunction. If there is only mild cirrhosis, the liver can make repairs yet it can continue its basic functions. However, when cirrhosis becomes far-advanced, more scar tissue forms in the body and there is irreparable damage. The liver is then replaced by fibrous scar tissue and there are regenerative nodules present. These regenerative nodules are lumps that appear due to regeneration of damaged tissue.

Cirrhosis can give rise to signs and symptoms later on in its process. Signs and symptoms of cirrhosis include visible blood capillaries on the skin of the upper abdomen, fatigue, insomnia, itchy skin, loss of appetite, loss of body weight, nausea, pain and tenderness in the area of the liver, red or blotchy palms, and weakness. Later on there may be ascites or the filling up of fluid in the abdomen, fast heartbeat, changes in personality and mood due to toxins that build up in the brain, bleeding gums, loss of muscle mass, alcohol intoxication, difficulties in drug metabolism, confusion, dizziness, fluid retention or edema of the limbs, hair loss, high susceptibility to bruising, jaundice, loss of libido or sex drive, memory problems, more frequent fevers, muscle cramps, muscle cramps, nosebleed, shoulder pain, panting or breathlessness, black or tarry stools, dark urine, vomiting of blood, and walking problems.

There are many causes of cirrhosis, the most common of which are fatty liver disease, alcohol abuse, and hepatitis. Too much consumption of alcohol can also lead to liver cirrhosis, when a man drinks more than 21 units and a woman drinks more than 14 units per week. This is because an unusually high amount of alcohol cannot be metabolized well by the liver and the liver cells can experience damage. Long term, heavy and regular alcohol drinkers are more likely to develop cirrhosis. These people are also more prone to develop fatty liver. With regards to hepatitis, hepatitis C can often lead to cirrhosis because it can precipitate liver damage. Liver damage can also be cause by hepatitis B and D.

Cirrhosis can also develop from non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which may be found in people who are obese, diabetes patients, those with high blood lipid (fat) levels and those with hypertension.

Cirrhosis and Liver Cancer

In a recent systematic review and meta-analysis of 47 studies with 15,158 patients, researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center have found out that patients with cirrhosis who underwent liver ultrasound with or without measurement of serum alpha fetoprotein have liver cancers at an earlier stage. These persons were also more likely to have received curative instead of palliative treatment, and had longer survival. This should alert health professionals to screen patients with cirrhosis for liver cancer so that prognostication may be done and prompt management should be given.

To know more about cirrhosis, feel free to read our other articles on this site.