It’s a fact: Drinking too much alcohol can lead to liver cancer. There are more treatment options, if you are diagnosed early, so screening is key.
We spoke with Yuri S. Genyk, MD, professor of clinical surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, to learn about the causes of liver cancer and what to do, if you’re at risk.
What are the causes of liver cancer?
Most often, liver cancer is caused by liver cirrhosis, which is inflammation and scarring of the liver cells. Cirrhosis has three major causes:
- The hepatitis B and C viruses While your doctor can monitor the virus to reduce damage, it can still cause liver cancer.
- Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) NASH is caused by a fatty liver, and its risk factors include obesity, gastric bypass surgery, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. Some NASH patients develop liver cancer without developing cirrhosis first. If you are overweight and a heavy drinker, you are doubly at risk.
- Alcoholic liver disease Regardless of your age, if you are a heavy drinker, you should be screened for liver cancer.
How much alcohol is too much?
The one surefire way to protect yourself from alcoholic liver disease is to avoid alcohol entirely. However, most occasional social drinkers won’t develop alcoholic liver cirrhosis. Anyone who drinks heavily has a greater risk of developing liver cancer, whether that’s weekend binge drinking or a daily intake of two or more alcoholic drinks.
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What should I do, if I am at risk?
There is no cure for liver cancer, but it can be treated, if it is diagnosed early enough.
“The way you can get the upper hand on liver cancer is early diagnosis,” says Genyk. If you think you might be at risk, getting screened is recommended.
The screening process is simple and noninvasive. Your doctor will perform a liver ultrasound to detect cysts, obstructions or infections in the liver, as well as to check for cancer. If abnormalities are found on the ultrasound, your doctor will determine whether you need additional tests, like a CT scan, MRI or a test for alpha-fetoprotein, which can identify tumors.
by Heidi Tyline King
Visit one of the specialists at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center at Keck Medicine of USC to learn more about screenings and find out if you are at risk. If you are in the Los Angeles area, make an appointment, by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visiting https://cancer.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/.