Liver Cancer puts Heavyweight Champ Joe Frazier Up Against the Ropes-UPDATED

“Smoking” Joe Frazier has taken on his toughest opponent, and right now, the odds aren’t in his favor. The undisputed heavyweight champion, who took on opponents such as Muhammed Ali and George Foreman, was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer. The diagnosis only came 4 or 5 weeks ago, but the fighter is already in hospice care. Joe Frazier’s personal and business manager, Leslie Wolff, told the Associated Press:

We have medical experts looking into all the options that are out there. There are very few. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop looking…We appreciate every prayer we can get. I’ve got everybody praying for him. We”ll just keep our fingers crossed and hope for a miracle.

A Dozen Things you Need to Know about the Liver

    1. The liver is one of the largest organs in the body. It weights about 3 pounds in an adult man.
    2. The liver is in the upper abdomen near the stomach, intestines, gallbladder, and pancreas.
    3. It has four lobes, two on the front and two smaller ones on the back of the liver.
    4. The liver filters harmful substances from the blood so they can be passed from the body in stools and urine.
    5. It makes bile to help digest fats from food.
    6. It stores glycogen (sugar) which the body uses for energy.
    7. Your liver consists of 96% water. (The water is inside the cells and in blood.)
    8. Your liver can regenerate (re-build) itself. Even if only 25% of it is still healthy your liver can regenerate itself into a full liver again.
    9. Because of this, part of it can be dissected and transplanted into a person to function as a new liver!
    10. It stores vitamins and minerals A, D, K and B12.
    11. It breaks down the ingredients in medications, such as painkillers so that your body can use them more quickly.
    12. The liver plays an important role in blood clotting by producing six of the blood clotting factors.

What are the Risk Factors for Liver Cancer?

According to the National Cancer Institute, several factors may make a person more likely to develop liver cancer. These include:

Infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV): Liver cancer can develop after many years of infection with either of these viruses. Around the world, infection with HBV or HCV is the main cause of liver cancer. HBV and HCV can be passed from person to person through blood (such as by sharing needles) or sexual contact. An infant may catch these viruses from an infected mother.

Heavy alcohol use: Having more than two drinks of alcohol each day for many years increases the risk of liver cancer and certain other cancers. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol that a person drinks.

Aflatoxin: Liver cancer can be caused by aflatoxin, a harmful substance made by certain types of mold. Aflatoxin can form on peanuts, corn, and other nuts and grains. In parts of Asia and Africa, levels of aflatoxin are high. However, the United States has safety measures limiting aflatoxin in the food supply.

Iron storage disease: Liver cancer may develop among people with a disease that causes the body to store too much iron in the liver and other organs.

Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis is a serious disease that develops when liver cells are damaged and replaced with scar tissue. Many exposures cause cirrhosis, including HBV or HCV infection, heavy alcohol use, too much iron stored in the liver, certain drugs, and certain parasites. Almost all cases of liver cancer in the United States occur in people who first had cirrhosis, usually resulting from hepatitis B or C infection, or from heavy alcohol use.

Obesity and diabetes: Studies have shown that obesity and diabetes may be important risk factors for liver cancer. The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance that liver cancer will develop. However, many people with known risk factors for liver cancer don’t develop the disease. For more information about liver cancer, check out our story about “Sopranos” star Denise Borino-Quinn, or click here to go to the Resounding Health Casebook on the topic.

 UPDATE- November 8, 2011

Joe Frazier died last night of liver cancer. RIP Joe. Our thoughts are with your family.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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