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Reviewed by

Team Resolve

February 2, 2022

A Guide to Liver Cancer

Liver is an organ located at the right side of the stomach, charged with the major tasks of digestion of fat, detoxification of alcohol and other substances, as well as storing of various nutrients. The liver cells, named hepatocytes form the major bulk of the tissue. Any uncontrolled and unregulated growth of these hepatocytes is known as hepatocellular carcinoma, or simply, ‘Liver Cancer’. Liver cancer is one of the most common cancers seen in the Indian population and hence it becomes important to educate oneself about the risk factors, symptoms, prevention and rehabilitation of this disease.

Table of Contents

Who can get liver cancer?

Any individual can get liver cancer; however, incidence is higher in elderly males.

  • Alcohol Consumption: One of the most common risk factors in the Indian population is chronic alcohol consumption. 
  • Hepatitis Infections: Past infections with Hepatitis B or C virus is implicated in increasing risk for developing liver cancer.
  • Other liver diseases: Patients suffering from hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease are at an increased risk of developing liver cancer.
  • Diabetes: Uncontrolled diabetes (high blood sugar) can lead to liver cancer.
  • Liver Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis is a late stage of liver disease in which scar tissue replaces the hepatocytes following repeated insults.
  • Obesity: High BMI can also be a risk factor for developing liver cancer.

Prevention of liver cancer

Prevention of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C

  • Spread via sexual contact can be controlled by using barrier methods of protection like condoms.
  • Spread by blood can be prevented by avoiding sharing of needles, cessation of intravenous drug abuse, ensuring clean equipment at the barbers’ etc.
  • In a hospital setting, ensure proper sterilization of instruments to avoid contracting the disease.
  • Vaccine is available against Hepatitis B and offers remarkable protection to the individual.

Moderation of Alcohol Intake

Liver is an organ which can regenerate and is charged with the responsibility of detoxifying alcohol. However, with excessive intake, the liver is unable to regenerate optimally leading to alcoholic fatty liver, liver cirrhosis, and ultimately liver cancer. Moderation or limiting alcohol intake can bring down the risk of developing liver cancer many-fold.

  1.  

Weight Loss

As per Asian standards, BMI over 22.5 kg/m2 is defined as overweight. Taking small steps everyday to fall below this cutoff can bring down the risk of developing liver cancer.

  • Drink 7-8 glasses of water every day.
  • Limit consumption of refined foods, fried foods, excess salt, and carbohydrates.
  • Increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, protein rich foods etc.
  • Daily exercise, alternation routines of stretching, cardio and strength building can do wonders.

Symptoms of liver cancer

  • Repeated episodes of Jaundice: One of the earliest noted symptoms can be yellow discoloration of skin, eyes and nails.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Significant weight loss without any changes in diet or exercise pattern
  • Pain and/or presence of a lump in the right upper side of the stomach
  • Increased tiredness on daily activities
  • Dark-colored urine, chalky white stools can also be indicative of a liver malignancy
  • Bloating

When to approach a doctor?

If diagnosed in the early stages, it is possible to treat liver cancer with a good outcome for the patient. It hence becomes important to take regular screening tests, especially for population who:

  • Are elderly males
  • Have a history of alcohol consumption for several years
  • Have a history of hepatitis infections or recurrent jaundice in the past
  • Have concerning symptoms

A regular screening exam consisting of a complete hemogram and liver function test is recommended in high-risk individuals.

What can be done at home?

Taking small steps at home can make a big difference in the treatment, and its outcome for the patient. For a high-risk patient of liver cancer or for a patient already undergoing treatment for liver cancer, the following can be done:

Physical therapy

  • Stretching: Stretching helps increase blood flow to the body, improves healing and also alleviates anxiety. Stretch and move the upper limb joints as per their range of motion to avoid stiffness.
  • Aerobic Exercises: Brisk walking, jogging, swimming can help the body regain strength and also promotes blood supply to the various organs. Care should be taken to not injure oneself and to start a new exercise under guidance of a therapist.
  • Strength Training: Strength training exercises can help regain normalcy in life and make an individual capable of returning back to daily chores.

Note: Always consult a therapist before starting any exercise. Stop any activity which may cause discomfort.

Mental health

A diagnosis of a disease like liver cancer not only affects the patient but also his near and dear ones. To ensure holistic treatment, it is important to address the mental health aspect of the disease, offering complete emotional support to the individual as well as the caretakers.

  • Educate oneself from valid resources and do not believe in hear-say stories.
  • Individuals as well as the family should be counselled to mitigate the concerns and fears. It is only natural to feel anxious about the outcome of such a disease but keeping a positive outlook not only helps recover but also cope with a disease.
  • Proper psychiatric or psychological help should be taken if the individual feels anxious, there is loss of interest in activities previously found pleasurable, loss of appetite, change in sleeping patterns etc.
  • Attempts should be made to keep oneself busy by developing some hobbies to keep the mid free from anxiety.
  • Practice meditation
  • Join a support group with other fellow patients. Not only does this help in coming to terms with the disease, but also helps in establishing trust and hope for any patient.

Alcohol De-addiction Therapy

Cessation of alcohol intake can greatly improve the outcome of liver cancer. De-addiction therapy is required in patients who have withdrawal symptoms on stopping alcohol intake and have a dependence on it.

  • Medicines: Various medicines like naltrexone and disulfiram are used in de-addiction therapies. These can help develop an aversion to alcohol and also counters the withdrawal effects.
  • Behavioral Therapy: Counselling sessions with a specialist can help the patient develop a strong will-power to understand as well as combat his/her disease.
  • Support Groups: Joining a support group ensures the individual that he/she is not alone. Hearing about success stories can motivate the individual into complying with the treatment.

Lifestyle Modification

  • Alcohol and smoking cessation: The individual must be encouraged to quit smoking and reduce the consumption of alcohol to a bare minimum. It helps the liver recover from the daily insults and can halt the progression of the disease.
  • Diet: Increased intake of fresh fruits, vegetables, clean water and reducing consumption of fast food can help achieve a healthier lifestyle and cope up with the disease.
  • Exercise: Daily brisk exercise and improve the circulation to the muscles as well as lungs, allowing them to heal from past insults. It is recommended to maintain a BMI within the normal Asian range.
  • Daily meditation can help alleviate anxiety and help the patient recover mentally.
  • Safe sex practices must be adopted to prevent hepatitis infections, any syringes used for medication or needles for tattooing should be properly sterilised

Treatment Options

To commence a treatment, a final diagnosis is needed. Several investigations like deranged liver enzymes, CT scan, MRI and biopsy reports help make a conclusive diagnosis, stage the cancer and start one of the following treatment modalities:

  • Medicines: Medical science has evolved enough to be able to control the growth of cancerous tissues with various anticancer medicines. It is preferred in those individuals who do not show any metastasis of the cancer.
  • Surgery: Cancerous tissue can also be operated on and removed from the body.
  • Radiotherapy: Radiation can help destroy the cancerous tissues and is highly effective. 
  • Lifestyle Modifications: A change in diet, daily exercise and no smoking can help improve the outcome of the treatment.
  • Counselling: In a disease like liver cancer, it is important to educate the patient and his/her family, mitigate their doubts and concerns, and give them emotional support to tide over the illness.

A disease like liver cancer, apart from requiring medical treatment, also requires physical, mental and social rehabilitation of the suffering individual. Resolve360 is an endeavour to ensure that rehabilitative services are accessible to any individual in any corner of the world! We offer a team of dedicated specialists for holistic yet personalized treatment of all our patients. To book your first free online session, register here! https://resolve360.app/ 

Disclaimer

The above-mentioned remedies and medicines; are over the counter medicines (most of them) and are effective in most cases. It is advisable to contact the doctor before taking any medications.

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