Joe Frazier was tough as nails in his unforgettable battles with Muhammad Ali, but his fiercest opponent turned out to be liver cancer. Joe Frazier was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer in late September. He went into hospice care just a couple of weeks ago. The former heavyweight champion died on Monday November 8, 2011 at the age of sixty-seven.
According to the National Cancer Institute, liver cancer is the fifth deadliest cancer in men, and the ninth deadliest cancer in women in the United States. There are about 6,000 new cases every year. It usually occurs in people ages 50 to 70.
About 80% of cases of liver cancer are associated with chronic infection with either hepatitis C or B. We understand that Frazier was diagnosed with viral hepatitis back in 1978, although he never disclosed what type. Other possible risk factors include heavy alcohol use and scarring or cirrhosis of the liver. This type of cancer is also more common among African-Americans and other ethnic minorities, than in whites.
Initially, liver cancer often has no symptoms and if there are symptoms, they are often vague like fatigue, fever, chills, and night sweats. As the cancer becomes more advanced it can cause pain in the right upper abdomen, a bloated abdomen, jaundice of yellowing of the skin and eyes, weight loss and loss of appetite. This is why many liver cancers aren’t diagnosed until late.
Liver cancer can be treated, but it is unfortunately hard to cure because it’s often diagnosed at a later stage. Surgery offers the best chance for a cure but many patients can’t undergo surgery because of their underlying cirrhosis or the tumor has already spread. Also, the liver’s complex network of blood vessels and bile ducts makes surgery difficult. Advanced cancer can be treated with chemotherapy and low-dose radiation may control the cancer’s spread and ease pain but only provide modest benefit. Other treatments include pain medications and drugs used to treat nausea and swelling.
Not only can cancers originate in the liver, but it’s also a prime spot for other cancers to spread because it filters blood from all over the body. Due to the fact that all the blood in the body must pass through it, the liver is unusually accessible to cancer cells traveling in the bloodstream. In fact, most cancers in the liver are secondary or metastatic (meaning it started elsewhere in the body, like the colon, or breast, or lung).
To avoid getting primary liver cancer you should avoid heavy drinking. You may also want to avoid engaging in risky behaviors that might increase your risk of Hepatitis C or B infection, like IV drug use and high-risk sexual practices. If you have unusual belly pains, vomiting blood, yellowing of the eyes, see your doctor right away.
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