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Cirrhosis (Liver)

How is cirrhosis treated? (continued)

Prevention and early detection of liver cancer

Several types of liver disease that cause cirrhosis (such as hepatitis B and C) are associated with a particularly high incidence of liver cancer. It would be useful to screen for liver cancer in patients with cirrhosis, as early surgical treatment or transplantation of the liver can cure the patient of cancer. The difficulty is that the methods available for screening are only partially effective, identifying at best only 50% of patients at a curable stage of their cancer. Despite the partial effectiveness of screening, most patients with cirrhosis, particularly hepatitis B and C, are screened yearly or every six months with ultrasound examination of the liver and measurements of cancer-produced proteins in the blood, for example, alpha fetoprotein.

Liver transplantation

Cirrhosis is irreversible. Many patients' liver function will gradually worsen despite treatment and complications of cirrhosis will increase and become difficult to treat. Therefore, when cirrhosis is far advanced, liver transplantation often is the only option for treatment. Recent advances in surgical transplantation and medications to prevent infection and rejection of the transplanted liver have greatly improved survival after transplantation. On average, more than 80% of patients who receive transplants are alive after five years. Not everyone with cirrhosis is a candidate for transplantation. Furthermore, there is a shortage of livers to transplant, and there usually is a long (months to years) wait before a liver for transplanting becomes available. Therefore, measures to retard the progression of liver disease and treat and prevent complications of cirrhosis are vitally important.

Reviewed on 10/11/2016

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