Coping and support

Learning you have any life-threatening illness can be devastating. Each person finds his or her own ways of coping with a diagnosis of liver cancer. Although there are no easy answers for people dealing with liver cancer, the following suggestions may be of help:

  • Learn enough about liver cancer to make decisions about your care. Ask your doctor about your liver cancer, including the stage of your cancer, your treatment options and, if you like, your prognosis. As you learn more about liver cancer, you may become more confident in making treatment decisions.
  • Keep friends and family close. Keeping your close relationships strong will help you deal with your liver cancer. Friends and family can provide the practical support you'll need, such as helping take care of your house if you're in the hospital. And they can serve as emotional support when you feel overwhelmed by cancer.
  • Find someone to talk with. Find a good listener with whom you can talk about your hopes and fears. This may be a friend or family member. The support of a counselor, medical social worker, clergy member or cancer survivors group also may be helpful.

    Ask your doctor about support groups in your area. Or check your phone book, library or a cancer organization, such as the National Cancer Institute or the American Cancer Society.

  • Make plans for the unknown. Having a life-threatening illness, such as cancer, requires you to prepare for the possibility that you may die. For some people, having a strong faith or a sense of something greater than themselves makes it easier to come to terms with a life-threatening illness.

    Ask your doctor about advance directives and living wills to help you plan for end-of-life care, should you need it.


Reduce your risk of cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver, and it increases the risk of liver cancer. You can reduce your risk of cirrhosis if you:

  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount you drink. For women, this means no more than one drink a day. For men, this means no more than two drinks a day.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If your current weight is healthy, work to maintain it by choosing a healthy diet and exercising most days of the week. If you need to lose weight, reduce the number of calories you eat each day and increase the amount of exercise you do. Aim to lose weight slowly — 1 or 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kilograms) each week.
  • Use caution with chemicals. Follow instructions on chemicals you use at home or at work.

Get vaccinated against hepatitis B

You can reduce your risk of hepatitis B by receiving the hepatitis B vaccine, which provides more than 90 percent protection for both adults and children. The vaccine can be given to almost anyone, including infants, older adults and those with compromised immune systems.

Take measures to prevent hepatitis C

No vaccine for hepatitis C exists, but you can reduce your risk of infection.

  • Know the health status of any sexual partner. Don't engage in unprotected sex unless you're certain your partner isn't infected with HBV, HCV or any other sexually transmitted infection. If you don't know the health status of your partner, use a condom every time you have sexual intercourse.
  • Don't use intravenous (IV) drugs, but if you do, use a clean needle. Reduce your risk of HCV by not injecting illegal drugs. But if that isn't an option for you, make sure any needle you use is sterile, and don't share it. Contaminated drug paraphernalia is a common cause of hepatitis C infection. Take advantage of needle-exchange programs in your community and consider seeking help for your drug use.
  • Seek safe, clean shops when getting a piercing or tattoo. Needles that may not be properly sterilized can spread the hepatitis C virus. Before getting a piercing or tattoo, check out the shops in your area and ask staff members about their safety practices. If employees at a shop refuse to answer your questions or don't take your questions seriously, take that as a sign that the facility isn't right for you.

Ask your doctor about liver cancer screening

For the general population, screening for liver cancer hasn't been proved to reduce the risk of dying of liver cancer, so it isn't generally recommended. The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases recommends liver cancer screening for those thought to have a high risk, including people who have:

  • Hepatitis B and one or more of the following apply: are Asian or African, have liver cirrhosis, or have a family history of liver cancer
  • Hepatitis C infection and liver cirrhosis
  • Liver cirrhosis from other causes, such as an autoimmune disease, excessive alcohol use, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and inherited hemochromatosis
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis

Discuss the pros and cons of screening with your doctor. Together you can decide whether screening is right for you based on your risk. Screening typically involves an ultrasound exam every six months.