February 20, 2015

Patients with Cirrhosis at Increased Risk for Several Cancers

By Editor

According to results recently published in the Annals of Oncology, individuals with cirrhosis of the liver have a significantly increased risk of developing cancers originating in the liver, oral cavity, pharynx, and esophagus. Patients with cirrhosis should discuss screening procedures for these types of cancers with their physician.

Cirrhosis of the liver refers to a condition in which irreversible scarring of the liver occurs, resulting in decreased liver function. Individuals who drink alcohol excessively are at an increased risk of developing cirrhosis, and studies have indicated that cirrhosis raises the risk of developing cancer originating in the liver. Since most cancers have significantly higher cure rates if they are caught and treated early and before they spread from the site of origin, researchers have been focusing on establishing associations between specific variables and increased risks of specific cancers. If it’s determined that certain individuals are at a higher risk of developing a specific cancer, they may be appropriately screened for the early detection of the cancer.

A recent analysis of data was performed in order to establish an association between cirrhosis of the liver and the risk of developing cancers other than liver cancer. The study included over 4,000 patients who had cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx (back of the throat), esophagus (tube connecting the mouth to stomach), stomach, colon, rectum, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. Additionally, over 4,000 patients admitted to hospitals for conditions other than cancer were included. Overall, patients with cirrhosis of the liver had an increased risk of developing several types of cancers, compared with patients who did not have cirrhosis of the liver. Patients with cirrhosis had a significantly higher risk of developing, in particular, cancers originating in the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, and liver.

The researchers concluded that patients with cirrhosis of the liver have an increased risk of not only liver cancer, but also cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, and esophagus. Patients with cirrhosis of the liver may wish to speak with their physician regarding their individual risks of developing these cancers, as well as possible screening methods for these types of cancers. Patients may also wish to speak with their physician regarding their individual risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial further evaluating screening measures for these cancers. Information regarding relevant ongoing trials may be found at the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov) and www.cancerconsultants.com.

Reference: Randi G, Altieri A, Gallus S, et al. History of cirrhosis and risk of digestive tract neoplasms.Annals of Oncology. 2005;16:1551-1555.

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CONDITIONS OF THE GI TRACT