Liver Cancer Awareness Month
This year, an estimated 30,200 Americans will die from liver cancer. Although it is a leading cause of cancer deaths in the nation, there are ways for a person to reduce their risk of developing liver cancer. It’s worthwhile to learn more about this deadly disease, and more importantly, about one of its biggest risk factors: alcohol use.
What Is Liver Cancer?
Liver cancer occurs when unhealthy cells grow and spread across the liver and severely impair its functioning. There are two different types of liver cancer: primary liver cancer, which develops inside the liver, and metastatic liver cancer, which originates in another organ and spreads to the liver. Both types of liver cancer can develop out of the same set of risk factors, which can include:
- Chronic viral hepatitis (hep-B or hep-C): Hepatitis is the most common risk factor for this specific cancer because it can lead to cirrhosis of the liver.
- Ethnicity: Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans have the highest rates of liver cancer diagnosis in the United States.
- Gender: Males are more likely to develop hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of primary liver cancer.
- Fatty liver (steatosis): This is a condition that can be caused by diabetes, obesity or alcohol-related liver damage.
- Excessive alcohol consumption: Alcohol can cause cirrhosis of the liver and steatosis, both of which can lead to liver cancer.
Some liver cancer risk factors cannot be mitigated, but alcohol use is one major risk factor that can be managed effectively before it damages the liver.
How Alcohol Raises Liver Cancer Risk
Any amount of alcohol can have serious health-related consequences like weakening of the immune system and digestion disruption. However, drinking in moderation does not typically lead to diseases of the liver. Dangerous types of alcohol consumption, like repeated binge drinking and heavy alcohol use can raise someone’s risk of developing liver cancer, and many different types of cancer, including that of the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, colon and pancreas. With liver cancer specifically, alcohol use is strongly correlated with primary liver cancer, which develops inside the organ.
Essentially, alcohol is toxic to the liver, and the more a person consumes, the greater their risk of developing liver cancer. Alcohol can affect this vital organ in several ways, and each of these interactions can lead to the development of liver cancer.
There are several key ways in which alcohol use can indirectly cause liver cancer, including:
- Alcohol can damage and permanently destroy liver cells: Without healthy cells, the liver is more likely to malfunction.
- Alcohol can cause cirrhosis of the liver: Cirrhosis occurs when normal liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue. Alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver has been proven to cause liver cancer.
- Alcohol-related liver damage can cause fatty liver: Also known as steatosis, fatty liver is a condition in which there is an excess amount of fat in your liver, due to obesity, diabetes or damage caused by alcohol addiction.
- Heavy alcohol use can lead to alcoholic hepatitis: This can cause inflammation and swelling in the liver. As many as 35 percent of heavy drinkers struggle with alcoholic hepatitis.
Reducing Liver Cancer Risk
Given that alcohol use can raise a person’s risk of developing liver cancer, limiting alcohol consumption can help prevent this disease. Most people who drink in moderation do not develop alcohol-related liver disease or liver cancer. Moderate drinking equates to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
In addition to drinking in moderation, other effective liver cancer prevention tactics include:
- Talking with a doctor about hepatitis prevention (including vaccinations).
- Engaging in regular screenings for liver cancer.
- Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine to avoid obesity.
- Avoiding heavy drinking.
If someone already struggles with liver cancer, there are numerous ways to cope with this disease and a variety of resources available. People who need immediate support or guidance for liver cancer issues can call the American Liver Foundation helpline at 1-800-465-4837. This line is free and confidential, and is available Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. EST.
Overcome Your Alcohol Addiction to Prevent Liver Cancer
One of the best ways to prevent liver damage and cancer is to moderate your alcohol intake. This can be difficult for anyone and can seem impossible if you struggle with alcohol addiction. However, an alcohol use disorder isn’t a death sentence, and your recovery is possible with the right treatment.
Overcoming alcoholism is best done with the support of a medical team at an accredited rehab center because an at-home detox or cold-turkey alcohol detox can be life-threatening. After detox is complete, inpatient care helps ensure your continued healing, and outpatient treatment prepares you to transition back to daily life with strong coping skills to avoid alcohol misuse in the future.
If you’re ready to leave alcohol addiction in the past, The Recovery Village can help. With facilities located nationwide and treatment programs ranging from medically assisted detox through aftercare, The Recovery Village can empower you or a loved one to heal from addiction in a safe, supportive environment. To get started, call 352.771.2700 to speak with a caring representative.