Singapore, a country where lifestyles are generally healthier than those of other countries in the developed world, sees surprisingly high rates of liver disease, including multiple types of liver cancer. When taken together, cancers of the liver are the 4th most common type of cancer among men in Singapore and the 5th most common in women.
Though our livers are extremely resilient organs, even they are vulnerable when subjected to long-term abuse. Types of liver cancer associated with lifestyle choices include hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer), angiosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, hepatoblastoma, hemangioma, hepatic adenoma, and focal nodular hyperplasia, just to name a few.
While the different types of liver cancer have specific causes, it is possible to reduce the risks of developing most of them by implementing some lifestyle changes.
Below are some risk prevention tips that may prevent the development of cancer cells in the liver:
1.) Keep Alcohol Consumption to a Minimum
Regular alcohol consumption is a known risk factor for multiple types of liver cancer. Consuming alcohol frequently or in large quantities can lead to liver scarring and, eventually, liver cirrhosis. Liver cirrhosis is not a type of liver cancer but it may impede the liver’s ability to break down toxins. Over time, this accumulation of toxins may lead to several types of liver cancer and other liver diseases.
It’s worth noting that alcohol itself can also increase the risk of liver cancer even without the presence of cirrhosis or other liver diseases. This is because even small amounts of alcohol can be broken down by the liver into highly potent carcinogens. While moderation can greatly reduce your risks, it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether if you can.
2.) Stop Smoking
Smoking contributes to the growth of cancer cells throughout the entire body, not just in the respiratory system. Tobacco products contain over 4,000 toxic chemicals, many of which have been linked to cancer. While cancers of the respiratory system are the biggest risk for regular smokers, smoking can increase one’s risk for virtually all kinds of cancer, including cancers of the liver.
Most cancer cells that develop in our bodies are destroyed by our immune systems. Smoking, however, can interfere with this process. Smoking weakens the immune system, which maximises the odds of cancer cells in the liver developing into a malignant tumour. There is also evidence that smoking accelerates the development of cancer cells in the liver.
3.) Maintain a Healthy Weight
Fatty liver disease (steatosis) is a common risk factor for different types of liver cancer. While a healthy liver needs some fat to function normally, excessive fat can be problematic. Steatosis can lead to liver inflammation (steatohepatitis), and then scarring (fibrosis). If unhealthy eating and exercise habits are maintained, nonalcoholic liver cirrhosis may develop, causing similar cancer risks to alcohol-induced cirrhosis.
By being mindful of one’s weight and activity levels, the risk of developing liver cancer through steatosis can be significantly reduced.
4.) Avoid the Excessive Consumption of Sugary and Fatty Foods
Foods rich in saturated fat and sugar are associated with an increased risk of liver disease that, in turn, increases the risk of liver cancer. Some evidence indicates that people who eat fatty and sugary foods frequently may still be at risk from liver cancer even if they maintain a recommended weight and have an active lifestyle.
5.) Avoid Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections are significant risk factors for liver cancer. Cumulatively, these infections are a major cause of liver disease worldwide.
Both HBV and HCV can be passed on through infected blood, unprotected sexual contact, and sharing unsanitized needles to inject drugs. These viruses could also be passed on from mother to child during childbirth. Before the advent of widespread hepatitis screening, HBV and HCV were also often passed through blood transfusions and organ transplants.
Avoiding behaviours that lead to HBV and HCV infections will help reduce one’s risk of liver cancer. Getting an HBV vaccine and getting screened for HBV and HCV can also help reduce liver cancer risks. It’s also important to treat open wounds immediately and to avoid getting another person’s blood in the wound, as it might happen in an accident or an altercation.
6.) Limit Exposure to Known Carcinogens
Several chemicals are known to increase one’s risk of liver cancer. These include arsenic, vinyl chloride, synthetic dyes, and many widely used herbicides and pesticides. Cancer-causing aflatoxins produced by common mould species are also known to be present in some agricultural products. An excess of androgen and oestrogen hormones have also been linked to the proliferation of liver tumours.
Of course, most of us cannot avoid coming in contact with at least some of these chemicals. However, the risks are only serious for people working in certain industries or other special situations that put them into frequent contact with these chemicals.
Regardless, it’s best to exercise caution when dealing with known carcinogens. If you must work with these chemicals, make sure to use appropriate personal protective equipment while observing the correct handling procedures.
7.) Get Genetics Testing
Some heritable traits can increase the risk of liver cancer, particularly when paired with habits that accentuate those risks. By having your genes tested by a qualified screening service, you can get a better idea of your specific risks, as well as those of your immediate family members.
Liver cancer is a serious disease that is, unfortunately, quite common in Singapore. Thankfully, there is much that could be done to reduce your risk. Schedule an appointment with your physician today to learn how else you can mitigate your risk of liver cancer.