What is the connection between hemochromatosis and liver cancer?

8:01 PM, Nov 27, 2012   |    comments
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By Kay Quinn Healthbeat Reporter

St. Louis (KSDK) - Liver cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer worldwide.

On this week's 8 Ways to Prevent Cancer segment, a viewer wants to know if having a disease that causes too much iron in her blood also raises her risk of liver cancer.

The blood disorder is called hemochromatosis. It's a hereditary disease that causes the body to absorb too much iron. The heart and pancreas can be damaged as a result.

But the liver, which is about the size of a football and the largest organ in the body, can be severely affected.

"Undiagnosed and untreated can lead to damage in the liver and cirrhosis," says Dr. Graham Colditz, Associate Director of Prevention and Control at the Siteman Cancer Center, and the Niess-Gain professor at Washington University School of Medicine.

That's a scarring of the liver caused by the overload of iron.

About one in 300 people in this country have hemochromatosis.

Symptoms can include joint pain, fatigue and stomach pain. But getting your hemochromatosis diagnosed and treated can dramatically lower your risk of developing cirrhosis and liver cancer.

"Standard treatment actually removes that problem," says Dr. Colditz. "So in this day and age anyone who is diagnosed and managed actually doesn't carry any increased risk of cancer."


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