The Relationship of Chronic Viral Hepatitis, Alcoholism, and Cirrhosis to Liver Cancer
Medical Author: Jay W. Marks, MD
Medical Editor: Leslie J. Schoenfield, MD, PhD
Cancer can start within the liver (primary liver canceror hepatocellular cancer) or spread to the liver (metastatic liver cancer) from other sites, such as the colon. Cancer that starts in the liver, which I will refer to simply as liver cancer, is the fifth most common cancer in the world. In the U.S., it is among the 10 most common cancers. This cancer is more frequent among Native Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics than among Caucasians.
Liver cancer is a bad cancer. It has frequently spread beyond the liver by the time it is discovered, and only 5% of patients with liver cancer that has begun to cause symptoms survive even five years without treatment. The only hope for patients who are at risk for liver cancer is regular surveillance so that the cancers can be found early. Early cancers can be treated by surgical removal (resection), destruction of the individual tumors, or liver transplantation. Although the current techniques for surveillance are not very good at detecting early liver cancer, newer techniques are being tested and appear to be better.
The most common diseases associated with liver cancer are chronic viral hepatitis, alcoholism, and cirrhosis(scarring of the liver). Moreover, chronic viral hepatitis is common in alcoholism, and both viral hepatitis and alcoholism cause cirrhosis which usually precedes the development of cancer. Therefore, the contributions and interrelationships of alcohol abuse, viral hepatitis, and cirrhosis in the development of liver cancer are complex. Despite the complexity, it is important to try to understand the contributions of each disease so that patients at highest risk for liver cancer can be targeted for surveillance. Theoretically, they also might be targeted with treatments that prevent the development of liver cancer, when such treatments are developed.
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse facts
- Alcohol abuse is a disease that is characterized by the sufferer having a pattern of drinking excessively despite the negative effects of alcohol on the individual’s work, medical, legal, educational, and/or social life.
- Alcohol abuse affects about 10% of women and 20% of men in the United States, most beginning by their mid teens.
- Signs of alcohol intoxication include the smell of alcohol on the breath or skin, glazed or bloodshot eyes, the person being unusually passive or argumentative, and/or a deterioration in the person’s appearance or hygiene.
- Almost 2,000 people under 21 years of age die each year in car crashes in which underage drinking is involved. Alcohol is involved in nearly half of all violent deaths involving teens.
- Alcoholism is a destructive pattern of alcohol use that includes a number of symptoms, including tolerance to or withdrawal from the substance, using more alcohol and/or for a longer time than planned, and trouble reducing its use.
- Alcohol, especially when consumed in excess, can affect teens, women, men, and the elderly quite differently.
- Alcohol dependence has no one single cause and is not directly passed from one generation to another genetically. Rather, it is the result of a complex group of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors.
- There is no one test that definitively indicates that someone has an alcohol-use disorder. Therefore, health-care practitioners diagnose these disorders by gathering comprehensive medical, family, and mental-health information.
- There are thought to be five stages of alcoholism.
- There are numerous individual treatments for alcoholism, including individual and group counseling, support groups, residential treatment, medications, drug testing, and/or relapse-prevention programs.
- Some signs of a drinking problem include drinking alone, to escape problems, or for the sole purpose of getting drunk; hiding alcohol in odd places; getting irritated when you are unable to obtain alcohol to drink; and having problems because of your drinking.
- While some people with alcohol dependence can cut back or stop drinking without help, most are only able to do so temporarily unless they get treatment.
- There is no amount of alcohol intake that has been proven to be generally safe during pregnancy.
- The long-term effects of alcohol abuse and alcoholism can be devastating and even life threatening, negatively affecting virtually every organ system.
- Codependency is the tendency to interact with another person in an excessively passive or caretaking manner that negatively affects the quality of the codependent individual’s life.
- Adequate supervision and clear communication by parents about the negative effects of alcohol and about parental expectations regarding alcohol and other drug use can significantly decrease alcohol use in teens.
- With treatment, about 70% of people with alcoholism are able to decrease the number of days they consume alcohol and improve their overall health status within six months.