First, know that liver cancer rates are increasing
Liver cancer is fairly rare, but since 1990, its relative risk has doubled, rising from 3.5 to 6.5 per 100,000, says Otis Brawley, MD, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. Liver cancer symptoms don’t usually show until the cancer has reached advanced stages, so regular screenings could be key to survival rates. “If we have somebody with regular screenings and it looks like cancer, we can cure them, versus if they have an advanced disease that has spread beyond the liver,” says Ghassan Abou-Alfa, MD, medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “We prefer not to see patients with symptoms.” Read on for four risk factors and four symptoms that could clue you in to signs of liver damage. Avoid these ways that you are secretly hurting your liver.
You’ve had hepatitis C
Certain characteristics may put you at risk for liver cancer. Those with a history of the virus hepatitis C can develop related liver cancer 10 years after their diagnosis, Dr. Abou-Alfa says. The CDC recommends anyone born between 1945 and 1965 get tested for the virus. “Most Americans in that age group haven’t been screened,” Dr. Brawley says. “There is treatment that can cure hepatitis C and therefore prevent liver cancer.” You might have this “silent” liver disease and not even know it.
You’ve had hepatitis B (or haven’t been vaccinated)
Although it’s unrelated to hepatitis C, hepatitis B can also cause cancer. American children get vaccinated at birth, but others who haven’t gotten the vaccine could be at risk for liver cancer, Dr. Abou-Alfa says. “Anybody who has hepatitis should have some form of monitoring by a doctor,” he says. He recommends getting an ultrasound at least once a year to screen for cancer if you’ve had either virus. Testing for the protein alpha-fetoprotein in the blood could also signal liver cancer, though it hasn’t been proven to be an accurate test, Dr. Abou-Alfa says.