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Viral Hepatitis and Liver Disease

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Things to know about liver cancer

for Veterans and the Public

Things to know about liver cancer - Liver Cancer for Patients

  • Liver cancer can cause death in a person with cirrhosis.
  • Liver cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world, especially in Asia and Africa, and it is becoming increasingly common in the United States.
  • If liver cancer is diagnosed in earlier stages, then there is a better chance of a good outcome.
  • Patients with cirrhosis from any cause, including hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and alcohol use, have a greater risk of developing liver cancer.
  • Preventing cirrhosis is the best way of preventing liver cancer.
  • Screening for liver cancer is done with abdominal ultrasound every 6 months. A blood test called AFP can be added to the ultrasound, but it is not required.
  • If something concerning such as a mass is seen on the ultrasound, usually a CT or MRI is performed to get more detailed views.
  • A health care provider can usually determine whether liver cancer is present based on radiology tests, such as a CT or MRI of the abdomen. A biopsy of the liver, which refers to extracting a small sample of tissue with a hollow needle and testing it for liver cancer, is used less often. Biopsies can be difficult to perform and there are some risks involved.
  • Liver cancer can be treated if it is detected early, but the treatment is very specialized. Patients should discuss the details thoroughly with their health care providers.
  • One potential treatment for early-stage liver cancer is a liver transplant. This is a complicated form of treatment, because a patient first needs to be a good candidate for a liver transplant, then be evaluated at a liver transplant center and placed on a waiting list, and finally, be well enough to undergo a transplant when a donated liver becomes available.
  • Patients with successfully treated hepatitis C who have cirrhosis still need ultrasounds every 6 months to screen for liver cancer. Cure of the hepatitis C virus with antiviral medications reduces the risk of liver cancer but does not make the risk zero.
  • People with hepatitis B who are in a high-risk group for liver cancer
    should still be screened even if their hepatitis B is being treated. Antiviral treatment of HBV reduces the risk of liver cancer but does not reduce the risk to zero.