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Liver cancer is more commonly noted in men and usually affects individuals between the ages 50-60 years. Hepatocellular carcinoma is noted more commonly in Africa and Asia than in the United States and UK.

Hepatocellular carcinoma is the major type of liver cancer that accounts for about 80-90% of all liver cancers. Liver cancer may arise initially within the liver itself or may have spread from other organs (metastatic cancer).

Causes

Although the exact cause of liver cancer is not known, a condition known as liver cirrhosis is frequently associated with increased incidence of liver cancer. Alcohol abuse is the most common cause of liver cirrhosis, while other factors such as immunological disorders (disorders affecting the body’s defence system), inflammatory disorders and infectious conditions such as hepatitis B and C have also been associated with an increased risk.

In some instances cancer cells from other parts of the body travel through the blood and reach the liver to cause cancerous changes in the liver cells. Colon cancer is one such condition wherein the cancer cells from the colon tend to affect the liver during its advanced stages.

Diagnosis

Liver cancer is generally associated with symptoms such as abdominal pain, increased bleeding tendencies, and jaundice. The diagnosis of liver cancer is based on the observations made with diagnostic tests such as computed tomography (CT) scans and liver biopsies.

Treatment

Conventional Treatment

Treatment options such as surgery, ablation, embolization, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are the conventional therapeutic options available for the treatment of liver cancer. These options are selected based on the severity of the disorder, age of the affected individual, extent of the cancer and presence of other risk factors. Early recognition is associated with better prognosis while advanced stages of liver cancer are associated with poor prognosis. Surgical treatment ranges from removal of only the cancerous tissues to complete removal of the liver followed by liver transplantation.

These therapeutic options are the only options available to treat liver cancer. Complementary or other alternative therapies are beneficial in reducing the symptoms and are frequently advised along with the traditional therapies. In some instances the alternative therapies may be beneficial in preventing the occurrence of liver cancers.

Alternative Treatments

Various alternative therapies have been proposed to have curative effects in liver cancer. However, more detailed analysis of these methodologies is required to confirm the safety and efficacy of these products in treating liver cancer. Nevertheless, these therapies are frequently advised as an adjuvant to the traditional treatment options.

Some of the alternative treatment options may be broadly categorised as:

  • Herbal supplementation
  • Nutrition therapy
  • Mind-body medicine
  • Rehabilitation 
  • Others

Herbal Supplementations

The occurrence of disorders such as cancer has been attributed to abnormal functioning of the cells and tissues in the body. The herbal supplements have been observed to have many beneficial effects on the body that may also prevent the occurrence of different types of cancers. These benefits may either arise from the antioxidant properties or other properties that prevent the progression of cancer cells in the body.

Our body produces substances known as free radicals that destroy the abnormal cells and tissues in the body. However, increased action of these free radicals can destroy the normal cells also. Antioxidants prevent such damage and protect the healthy cells and tissues.

Essiac tea has been widely popularised as homeopathic treatment for cancers. Made from a mixture of herbs it contains potent antioxidants that prevent occurrence of cancers. It is also proposed to have DNA protective properties which prevent the modification of the cells and prevent them from changing into cancer cells. Green tea consumption has also been noted to have similar effects. Other substances with comparable effects include Coenzyme Q10 - CoQ10, and ellagic acid.

Furthermore, raw beet juice, bitter melon, AHCC (an extract of several mushrooms), curcumin, and ABM (Agaricus Blazei Murill) have all been proposed to have protective properties on the liver. Some of the herbal supplements may not suit all the individuals and hence a physician’s opinion should always be obtained before initiating the supplement therapy. It must also be remembered that these are only alternative therapies and should not be replaced with the conventional methods of treatment for liver cancer.

Nutrition Therapy

A balanced diet that provides optimum amounts of all essential nutrients is beneficial in reducing the adverse effects of medications being consumed. It also helps individuals to lead a healthy life. Vitamin and nutrient supplementation may be advised in order to compensate for lack of nutrients from diet. Some of the common supplements advised include: beta carotene, selenium, vitamin C, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and vitamin E. This supplementation also boosts the levels of the essential nutrients in the body and prevents the incidence of other disorders.

Mind-Body Medicine

Cancer is a highly stressful situation which results in anxiety, depression and other mood related symptoms. Additionally the consumption of medications and surgical procedures make have an impact on the lifestyle of the affected individuals. The mind-body therapy consists of behavioural therapy, stress management therapies, counselling sessions, meditation procedures and many other techniques that help the affected individual to decrease the amount of stress being experienced.

The individual tends to be more relaxed and often develops positive attitude towards treatment and life in general. These therapies are usually advised in combination with the conservative approaches and have been found to be beneficial in many instances.

Others

Traditional healing therapies such as acupuncture, hypnotherapy, homeopathy, and naturopathy have also been tried and have been beneficial in relieving some of the symptoms such as pain associated with liver cancer.

The alternative therapeutic options are often advised concurrently with the traditional therapies. Although the alternative therapies are not curative, they tend to enhance the effects of the conventional treatment methods n some instances. The alternative therapies are often referred to as supportive therapy as they help the affected individual to cope with the condition and respond better to the conventional treatment approaches.

Rehabilitation

The rehabilitation programs are generally aimed at improving the physical fitness and improve the overall well being of the affected individuals. These programs usually combine other modalities such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and manual therapy. The physical therapy strengthens the body, improves flexibility and boosts the body’s tolerance to the different therapies being followed.

Occupational therapists generally assess the physical condition of the affected individuals and provide guidance in improving the normal functioning of the body. Manual therapy consists of massage therapies and other similar options which help one to relax the body and calm the mind.

  • www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000280.htm
  • www.cancercenter.com/liver-cancer/complementary-alternative-liver-treatment.cfm
  • www.cancertutor.com/Other/Liver_Cancer.html
  • www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16226859?ordinalpos=4&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum
  • www.mayoclinic.com/health/liver-cancer/DS00399/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs
  • www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/liver/page10