Liver cancer: Expert discusses symptoms and treatments
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Cancer occurs when a trigger causes cells in different parts of the body to proliferate uncontrollably. Smoking and older age are the biggest risk factors for this malignancy, but the list of precursors is growing. According to new findings, a set of ubiquitous chemicals found in several cosmetics may be linked to the development of liver cancer.
The findings of a new study, conducted by researchers from the Keck School of Medicine of USC, suggest exposure to synthetic “forever” chemicals could be linked to liver cancer.
Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), which belongs to a class of forever chemicals known as polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), was found to be implicated in the development of non-viral hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common liver cancer.
The forever chemicals, so-called because they are broken down very slowly by the body, are found in a wide range of consumer and industrial products.
According to the website Chem Trust, PFAS are found in cosmetics such as hair conditioners, foundation cream, and sun creams, as well as non-stick cookware, textiles and cardboard food packaging.
Jesse Goodrich, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine, said: “This builds on existing research, but takes it one step further.
“Liver cancer is one of the most serious endpoints in liver disease and this is the first study in humans to show that PFAS are associated with this disease.”
Liver cancer occurs when the body loses control over cells that proliferate rapidly inside the organ.
This can cause a cascade of symptoms, including unintended weight loss, appetite loss, upper abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting and abdominal swelling.
Some cases of the disease develop without producing any symptoms at all, however.
The discovery of a link between liver cancer and forever chemicals emerged from a project following more than 200,000 residents of Los Angeles and Hawaii for the development of cancer and other diseases.
The researchers analysed blood and tissue samples of the participants, identifying 50 participants who eventually went on to develop liver cancer.
They then analysed blood samples of the participants taken prior to their diagnosis and compared them to the blood samples of their otherwise healthy counterparts.
The analyses revealed several different types of PFAS in the blood samples collected from liver cancer patients.
The strongest association was between PFOS and liver cancer, with subjects in the top 10 percent of PFOS exposure 4.5 times more likely to develop liver cancer, compared to those with the lowest levels of forever chemicals.
Veronica Wendy Setiawan, professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine, said: “Part of the reason there have been few human studies is because you need the right samples.
“When you are looking at an environmental exposure, you need samples from well before a diagnosis because it takes time for cancer to develop.”
Researchers hypothesised several ways in which the chemicals may interfere with normal liver functions.
Their analyses found evidence that PFOS altered the normal process of glucose metabolism, bile acid metabolism and the metabolism of branched-chain amino acids in the liver.
These disturbances can cause an accumulation of fat in the liver, which is medically referred to as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
NAFLD, which is becoming increasingly prevalent around the world, is a well-known precursor for liver cancer.
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