How Do I Know if I Should Be Screened for Liver Cancer?

Many people are at risk for liver cancer. Every year, over 27,000 Americans die of this disease. While there are several forms of liver cancer, some of which are hard to treat, as with most cancers, early diagnosis and treatment can make a huge difference in survival. There are well-established guidelines for who should receive certain types of liver cancer screening.

What Are The Risk Factors For Liver Cancer?

Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis develops when liver cells are damaged and replaced by scar tissue. Most cirrhosis in the United States is caused by alcohol abuse. Other causes are NAFLD (Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease), viral hepatitis (types B and C, as described below), and other rare types of chronic liver disease. Combined alcohol abuse and hepatitis virus infection puts people at high risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Age

In the United States, adult primary liver cancer occurs most often in people older than 60.

Obesity, NAFLD, and diabetes

Obesity causes fat to be deposited in the liver, which leads to NAFLD. Over the past decade, strong evidence has emerged suggesting that NAFLD and diabetes, a related disease, are increasingly important risk factors for liver cancer in the United States.

Gender

Men are more likely than women to develop liver cancer.

Viral Hepatitis

Hepatitis viruses are viruses that infect the liver. The two common types are hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Viral hepatitis is the largest risk factor for liver cancer worldwide. Hepatitis C has become much more common than hepatitis B because there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C.  Viral hepatitis can be passed from person to person through exposure to blood or bodily fluids.

If you know you have cirrhosis or other risk factors, it is extremely important to talk with your doctor about whether you should be regularly screened for liver cancer.

 

Finding cancer before any symptoms have developed will increase the chance of successful treatment.

 

Screening options for liver cancer include testing the blood for a substance called alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), which may be produced by cancer cells, or having imaging tests like an ultrasound, computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

 

Different guidelines apply to different causes of liver disease, so it is important that you are followed by a healthcare professional who is familiar with liver cancer and the various screening options.

What if My VA Doctor Does Not Offer or Did Not Do Liver Cancer Screening?

If a patient diagnosed with liver cancer met the guidelines for liver cancer screening and was not offered it, there is a possible medical malpractice case. In its internal policies, the VA recognizes that liver cancer screening is appropriate and necessary. Unfortunately, that screening is not always offered or done.

 

In any case involving the late diagnosis of liver cancer and/or death from liver cancer, a competent attorney should consider any issues relating to screening or the failure to screen. This is one of those areas where both the law and the medicine are complicated. It’s vital that an attorney have experience with both.

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