Liver Cancer Caused By High Sugar – Do These 3 Things to Prevent It

Did I read that right … liver cancer?

What the heck does that have to do with high blood sugar?

When it comes to possible complications associated with having high blood sugar, even if you asked diabetes care professionals, I bet you 95% won’t mention liver cancer. You’ll hear about potential havoc with the eyes, the heart, kidneys and blood vessels (and therefore risk of strokes or circulation problems with the legs increasing risk for loss of limb).

But the liver? It gets no respect.

It wasn’t until 2019 that the American Diabetes Association included the standard to screen for a buildup of fat in the liver not caused by alcohol consumption (called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis) and liver fibrosis (think scarred liver) for all individuals with:

  • prediabetes
  • type 2 diabetes
  • elevated liver enzymes (a blood test called “ALT” which stands for alanine aminotransferase)

Fibrosis is the first stage of liver scarring. You know what a scar is like – damaged tissue that’s still held together. Now imaging more scars building up in the liver. That’s called liver cirrhosis.

The most common cause of liver fibrosis is not alcoholic liver disease (that gets second place). First place goes to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD can lead to more liver injury and inflammation. It is possible to stop the progression and even reverse a bit of the damage if caught before the liver reaches cirrhosis.

Of all people with liver cirrhosis, 3% will get liver cancer every year. Liver cancer is the fastest-rising incidence of any cancer type in the United States which also carries the among the lowest 5-year survival rate amongst any type of cancer. It might seem like 3% is a small number. But once the cirrhosis is advanced, life expectancy can be less than 2 years. Much can be done to prevent this “silent killer” early on.

What Can You Do? 
Learn about risks, early detection and treatment, and self-care you can start doing today.

1. Know your risks and symptoms. What are the risks of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)?

  • Type 1 diabetes (1 in 10 people with type 1)
  • Type 2 and prediabetes (3 out of 4)
  • Obesity (1 out of 2)
  • Adults (1 in 3)
  • Having elevated levels of liver enzymes, including AST and ALT
  • Having elevated triglyceride levels

Symptoms often none in the early stages. The late stages of liver disease may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Nausea and weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fluid in the legs of stomach
  • Jaundice (yellow appearance in eyes and skin)

2. Take ownership of making sure you get the needed screening tests and care.  Your healthcare provider may need a little nudge on this. So ask about:

  • Liver enzyme and liver function blood tests like ALT/AST (and if those are elevated, an imaging test to confirm nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, called Elastography, and/or CT scan/MRI)
  • Lipid profile (measures cholesterol: the good, the bad and the ugly)
  • If diagnosed with NAFLD, see a specialist (a hepatologist or gastroenterologist) who can do further tests and prescribe medications to help.
  • Tests for chronic viral hepatitis A and hepatitis C

3. Self-care you can start today. Review these areas and pick one you to do:

  • Get immunized against Hepatitis C (this is standard care).
  • Do all the things Sweet People Club pet parrot says about doing what you can to manage blood sugar (chirp, “Take medications consistently, eat in such a way that helps, and get regular exercise”)
  • Don’t give up trying to lose weight if you’re carrying extra weight
  • Don’t give your liver extra work by feeding it alcohol
  • Ask your pharmacist or provider to review all your medications (including over the counter!) and supplements to see if any you’re taking could hurt your liver
  • Lower your cholesterol
  • Follow a lower carbohydrate diet (low in refined carbs)
  • Eat foods high in monosaturated fats (avocados, nuts and olive oil)
  • Add whey protein and green tea to your diet
  • Have 10 grams of soluble fiber daily (examples: oat bran, barley, lentils, peas, seeds, nuts, some veggies and you can add in a fiber supplement called psyllium)

October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month.

The goal is to catch the process early. Once the liver is damaged with scars (fibrosis), it can’t be reversed. The only treatment is to receive a liver transplant. And besides the long list of people on the wait list to get one, it’s best to avoid being in that line completely.

So show your liver a little love by taking care of it. No one else will do it for you!