Liver Hepatitis C Related Conditions Liver Cancer

When the hepatitis C virus infects the body, it affects the cells of the liver, leading to inflammation. In cases of chronic hepatitis C, inflammation can lead to the buildup of scar tissue, damaging the blood vessels in the liver. This scarring, known as cirrhosis, impairs liver function. Liver cell destruction and cirrhosis caused by chronic hepatitis C can eventually lead to primary liver cancer.

What is Liver Cancer?

Liver cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the liver, which multiply and form tumors. Liver cancer interferes with essential liver functions, including metabolism and waste removal.

The body can’t survive without a functioning liver. Liver cancer caused by hepatitis C is known as primary liver cancer — or “hepatocellular cancer” — as it originates in the liver. This is different from metastatic cancer affecting the liver, which originates elsewhere in the body and spreads, or “metastasizes,” to the liver.

What Increases Risk of Liver Cancer?

If you have hepatitis C, developing cirrhosis raises your risk of developing liver cancer. Those who don’t develop cirrhosis aren’t at any increased risk of developing liver cancer. Further stress to the liver can also increase your risk of developing liver cancer when you have chronic hepatitis C.

Can Liver Cancer be Prevented in People with Hepatitis C?

If you have hepatitis C and don’t have cirrhosis, you’re not necessarily at increased risk for developing liver cancer. If you have cirrhosis, ultrasound screenings can detect tumors in their early stages. Early detection offers the best chance at appropriate and successful treatment for liver cancer.

Exposing your liver to stress can increase your risk of liver damage, cirrhosis and liver cancer. If you have hepatitis C, avoid further damage to your liver by abstaining from alcohol and seeking approval from your doctor before taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications.

Liver Cancer Treatment

If you have hepatitis C and liver cancer develops as a result of cirrhosis, several treatment options are available, based on the tumor’s size and level of advancement:

  • For early-stage or small tumors, surgical removal may be effective.
  • For tumors that are large or difficult to remove via surgical excision, or when the liver has several cancerous tumors, chemotherapy and/or radiation can help to shrink the tumor.
  • In advanced cases of liver cancer, a liver transplant may be necessary. However, you’ll likely need treatment for hepatitis C after your transplant to help clear any remaining hepatitis C virus from your body.

Resources

Liver Foundation. (2010). Liver cancer. Retrieved October 7, 2010, from http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/livercancer/.

Providence Health and Services. (2010). FAQ: The link between hepatitis C and liver cancer. Retrieved October 7, 2010, from http://www.providence.org/oregon/health_resource_centers/cancer/faq.htm.

University of Maryland Medical Center. (2008). Cirrhosis: Causes. Retrieved October 7, 2010, from http://www.umm.edu/patiented/articles/what_causes_cirrhosis_000075_2.htm.