Cirrhosis, Fibrosis & Fatty Liver Disease: Risk Factors for Liver Cancer
Disorders of the liver are serious and some place you at an increased risk for liver cancer. Fibrosis and cirrhosis are among the most common liver disorders and these conditions are in fact, interconnected. Understanding the signs and symptoms of fibrosis and cirrhosis and how they develop is essential to facilitate the most effective diagnosis and treatment. Knowing if you have risk factors may also aid in the early detection of liver cancer. Each of these prevalent liver disorders is explained in greater detail below.
What is Fibrosis?
Fibrosis is a medical condition involving the build up of an excessive amount of scar tissue in the liver. Essentially, when the liver becomes damaged, it produces additional cells in an attempt to repair and replaced the damaged ones. Fibrosis does not generally occur due to a single event, but instead it develops gradually as a result of a chronic condition or damage that occurs over time. The liver’s attempt to repair itself with new cells actually creates scar tissue, which unfortunately cannot effectively replace damaged liver cells. The accumulation of cells furthers the problem by blocking the flow of blood to existing liver cells, which creates more cell death and damage. This vicious cycle must be identified as soon as possible to prevent a permanent condition. The long-term development of scarring in the liver leads to cirrhosis.
What causes liver damage? There are numerous potential causes which may result in damage to the cells of the liver, some of which include:
- Chronic Hepatitis B or C
- Excessive use of alcohol
- Fatty liver disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- Some inherited metabolic disorders
- Heart failure
- Autoimmune disorders
- Drug use
- Conditions affecting the bile ducts
- Certain medications (the liver is responsible for breaking down most drugs)
Fatty liver disease not associated with alcohol has become more widespread in the United States in the last several decades. Often, individuals who are overweight or obese, have diabetes, have high cholesterol, and/or high blood lipids develop fatty liver disease. When they occur together, this is known as metabolic syndrome, a condition that places you at increased risk for a host of other serious medical issues, such as heart disease.
What are the symptoms of fibrosis? Typically, patients with fibrosis do not experience any symptoms. Symptoms of fibrosis are often first noticed when a patient also develops cirrhosis.
What is Cirrhosis?
When fibrosis reaches the later stages, it become cirrhosis. Cirrhosis develops when there is enough scar tissue in the liver to interfere with proper liver function. This is a serious problem because the liver is necessary for several critical bodily functions. It serves to break down toxic substances, process alcohol and drugs, purify the blood, and produce nutrients that are then delivered to other organs and systems.
What are the symptoms of cirrhosis? Some patients with cirrhosis experience no signs or symptoms until severe scarring has occurred. Patients who do suffer symptoms from cirrhosis often experience fatigue, bleeding or bruising easily, jaundice, loss of appetite and weight loss, nausea, fluid build up in the legs or abdomen, and mental confusion or slurred speech.
How is cirrhosis diagnosed? Cirrhosis is irreversible in the vast majority of cases. However, prompt diagnosis and treatment can be initiated to prevent or minimize additional liver damage. Your doctor will likely order blood tests and may also use imaging tests to diagnose cirrhosis or fibrosis. Liver biopsy, where a sample of cells are extracted from your liver and examined, may also be used to determine the presence fibrosis or cirrhosis. It is important to note that these conditions vary in terms of severity, so testing is essential to determine the amount of existing scar tissue in the liver and extent of the liver damage.
Can Fibrosis & Cirrhosis Cause Liver Cancer?
Yes. Both fibrosis and cirrhosis are risk factors for liver cancer. Further, any condition that causes chronic liver damage, such as Hepatitis B or C, may also be associated with the development of liver cancer. Some risk factors for cancer can be eliminated through lifestyle changes or medical treatment, while others are simply a part of a person’s biological makeup. In other words, you may or may not be able to change your specific risk factors for liver cancer, and having some risk factors does not automatically mean you will develop cancer. Working with your doctor is crucial to develop the best approach to liver cancer prevention.
What if a Doctor Misses a Liver Condition?
It is up to your doctor to identify factors that placed you at increased risk for liver cancer. He or she must run appropriate tests to determine the presence of conditions like fibrosis and cirrhosis and develop an effective treatment plan. While there are no universally-accepted methods for early detection of liver cancer, remaining acutely aware of risk factors and testing patients with conditions like fatty liver disease, fibrosis, cirrhosis is essential.
If you have questions about medical negligence involving liver cancer or want to find out more about your legal options if a doctor failed to diagnose or treat liver disease in you or someone you love, the experienced New Jersey medical malpractice attorneys at Fronzuto Law Group can help. Contact us today at 973-435-4551 for a free consultation.