Liver cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the cells of your liver. Our liver is an organ that is about the size of a football. Your liver is located in the upper right portion of your abdomen. Your liver sits just beneath your diaphragm and above your stomach. Liver cancer is actually fairly rare with less than 200,000 cases in US each year.
Cancer that spreads to the liver is more common than cancer beginning in the liver cells. Cancer that begins in another area of the body (breast, lung or colon) and then spreads to the liver is called metastatic cancer rather than liver cancer. This type of cancer is named after the organ in which it began. For example if it begins in the colon it is referred to as metastatic colon cancer.
Signs And Symptoms Of Liver Cancer
Many people do not show any signs or symptoms in the initial stages of primary liver cancer. Signs and symptoms to be on the look out for include:
- Loss of weight without dieting
- Loss of appetite
- Upper abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- General weakness and fatigue
- Abdominal swelling
- Yellow discoloration of your skin and the whites of your eyes (also called jaundice)
- White, chalky stools
Liver Cancer Risk Factors
Factors that increase the risk of primary liver cancer include:
- Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C Infection. Long term infection with the hepatitis B virus or hepatitis C virus has been known to increase your risk of liver cancer.
- Cirrhosis Of The Liver. Cirrhosis is a progressive and irreversible condition causes scar tissue to form in your liver. The presence of this scarring increases your chances of developing primary liver cancer.
- Genetics. These diseases include hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease.
- Diabetes. Statistically those with diabetes have a higher chance of developing liver cancer than those who are not diabetic.
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. An accumulation of fat in the liver increases the risk of liver cancer.
- Exposure to aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are poisons produced by molds that grow on crops that are stored poorly. Crops, such as grains and nuts, can become contaminated with aflatoxins, which can end up in foods made of these products.
- Excessive alcohol consumption. Over consumption of alcohol over many years can lead to irreversible liver damage and increase your risk of liver cancer.
Dental Health Link To Liver Cancer
A recent scientific study completed at Queen’s University in Belfast found a substantial link between poor oral health and liver cancers. The study included 469,628 people and investigated an oral health link with liver, colon, rectum, and pancreatic cancer. There were no significant links for colon, rectum , and pancreatic cancer but there was a link with liver cancer.
Of the 469,628 participants, 4,069 developed gastrointestinal cancer during the 6 year follow up. In 13% of these cases, patients were in poor oral health. Participants with poor oral health were more likely to be younger, female, living in deprived socioeconomic areas and consumed less than two portions of fruit and vegetables per day.
The biological mechanisms by which poor oral health may be more strongly associated with liver cancer, rather than other digestive cancers, was not determined by this study. Researchers believe one possible explanation may be the potential role of the oral and gut microbiome in development of disease. One of the functions of the liver is to help with the elimination of bacteria from the human body. When the liver is damaged by diseases (this can include hepatitis, cirrhosis or cancer), liver function will decline and bacteria will survive for longer and therefore have the potential to cause more harm. One such bacteria, Fusobacterium nucleatum, originates in the oral cavity but its role in liver cancer is unclear. It is obvious further studies will be needed but this leads scientists down a path to possibly deciphering this type of cancer development.
Another theory in explaining the higher cancer risk due to poor oral health suggests that participants with poor oral health (including missing teeth) may change their diet, consuming softer and potentially less nutritious foods, which in turn influence the risk of liver cancer.
Liver Cancer And Oral Health Conclusion
The overall survival rate for liver cancer is about 18%. There are many factors that go into the survival rate but that number is quite sobering. Dental health has been linked to other systemic diseases (alzheimer’s disease and heart disease) recently as well. Evidence is mounting that dental health is vital to maintaining good overall health. See your dentist regularly for dental examinations and professional cleanings to stay healthy for a lifetime of smiles!