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What Is the Connection between Liver Failure and Cancer?

By Kristeen Moore
Updated May 17, 2024
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Liver failure and cancer are linked in a couple of different ways. Cancer of the liver is one of the many direct causes of liver failure. Acute liver failure is defined by a lack of function in cells within the liver, making the organ unable to function. This can then lead to cancer within the liver or other body parts as malignant cells spread.

Cancer of the liver is just one cause of liver failure. Malignant cells can develop within the liver and quickly spread to the outside of the organ and on to other body parts. Liver failure and cancer might not cause any noticeable symptoms until the diseases have progressed to a complicated stage.

Symptoms of liver failure and cancer can occur rapidly. A patient might experience nausea, vomiting, and confusion, as well as extreme fatigue and muscle tremors. The upper abdomen might also feel tender to the touch. If the liver does not rid the body of toxins, a patient can develop jaundice. Symptoms of jaundice include yellowish eyes, bowels, and skin.

Excessive bleeding is one of the main concerns of liver failure and cancer. Once the liver disease prevents proper function, the organ does not make blood clots like it normally would. This leaves a patient at risk of bleeding uncontrollably from a minor cut or scrape. To prevent a fatality from excessive bleeding, a doctor might recommend transfusions of blood that contain clotting proteins.

Both liver failure and cancer are difficult to treat because there may be other underlying problems that go undetected until it is too late. Acute liver failure puts patients at an increased risk of developing kidney disease, infections, and fluids in the brain. Such effects can occur while cancer cells spread from outside of the liver to other organs and the lymph nodes.

Cancer is often treated with a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Acute liver failure might require a transplant, especially if the disease has progressed rapidly. This involves the surgical removal of the damaged liver and placement of a healthy liver from an organ donor.

There are a few steps that patients can take to help prevent liver failure and cancer. A healthy lifestyle with limited alcohol and a diet of fruits, grains, and vegetables may help to prevent future liver problems and cancer. Patients might also consider talking to his or her doctor about all of the herbal supplements that they take as well as both over-the-counter and prescription medications. Frequent interactions with herbs and drugs, however, can lead to liver failure, so use them in moderation and only as directed by a certified physician.

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