Top 5 Ways to Prevent Liver Cancer

A few healthy choices can make all the difference

There are a number of risk factors associated with liver cancer, some of which you can control and others which you can't. While you clearly can't avoid things like genetics or certain medical conditions that give rise to liver cancer, there are a few simple steps you can take to reduce your personal risk while improving your health in general.

1
Get Rid of the Cigarettes

JGI/Tom Grill/Getty Images

If you are a smoker, now is the time to quit. In addition to increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer, smoking can profoundly increase your liver cancer risk, as well.

It is estimated that nearly a quarter of all liver cancers are caused by smoking and that the risk only increases if you have hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Moreover, smokers who drink heavily have an almost 10-fold greater risk of developing liver cancer than those who don't.

If you are insured, your health policy will likely cover the cost of at least one smoking cessation attempt per year. 

2
Reduce Your Alcohol Intake

Jack Andersen/Digital Vision/ Getty Images

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can cause the progressive scarring of liver tissue, a condition known as cirrhosis. If drinking continues, the condition can progress from compensated cirrhosis (meaning the liver can still function to some degree) to decompensated cirrhosis (where the liver no longer works). 

The bottom line is this: cirrhosis greatly increases your risk of liver cancer. If you are unable to stop, speak with your health provider about treatment options or referrals to support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.

3
Get the Hepatitis B Vaccine

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images

The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all children in the U.S. and is required by schools for admission.

If you are an adult, review your medical records to ensure you were properly immunized as a child. If you don't have those records, speak with your doctor about whether getting the hepatitis B vaccination is right for you.

The vaccine is recommended for adults who have multiple sex partners, inject drugs, have a sexually transmitted disease (including HIV), have chronic liver disease, or have diabetes and are under the age of 60.

Untreated chronic hepatitis B is associated with a significantly increased risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (the main type of liver cancer).

4
Practice Safe Sex

Peter Dazeley/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Hepatitis B can be passed sexually and, despite what some people might tell you, so can hepatitis C. The consistent use of condoms is associated with a 20-fold decrease in the risk of not only hepatitis but other sexually transmitted infections including HIV. 

If you have hepatitis B, you should advise your partner so that he or she can get vaccinated. Even after vaccination, condoms should still be used.

If you don't have hepatitis B, you can further reduce your risk by cutting down on the number of sex partners.

5
Do Not Share Needles

Don Mason/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The majority of hepatitis C infections are caused by injecting drug use (IDU). With no vaccine to protect against the disease, the only sure way to avoid IDU infection is to either not inject drugs or to avoid sharing needles and syringes. This includes the shared use of drug paraphernalia, such as cotton, spoons, and other cooking instruments.

You should access free needle exchange programs offered by many state and municipal public health authorities.  

Injecting drug use not only increases your risk of getting hepatitis, it is associated with faster liver disease progression — meaning that your risk of liver cirrhosis and cancer is all the more profound.

    Sources

    • El-Serag, H. and Kanwal, F. "Epidemiology of hepatocellular carcinoma in the United States: Where are we? Where do we go?" Hepatology. 2014; 60:1767.
    • Lee, Y.; Cohet, C.; Yang, Y.; et al. "Meta-analysis of epidemiological studies on cigarette smoking and liver cancer." International Journal of Epidemiology. August 2009; 38(6):1497-1511.

    Continue Reading