Chemotherapy drugs can damage the liver, but it is possible to take steps to reduce this risk.
Chemotherapy is a relatively standard therapy for a variety of different cancers. Despite its potential effectiveness in treating cancer, it can also cause potentially serious side effects, including mild to severe liver damage.
Many chemotherapy drugs are metabolized by the liver. However, some of them can cause serious liver damage. Chemotherapy drugs can cause mild liver problemsTrusted Source, and combination therapies can make these effects worse. A person may be able to take some steps to help protect their liver, but more research is needed to investigate these methods.
This article reviews possible ways to protect the liver, the effects of chemotherapy on the liver, and more.
How to protect the liver
Although more research is still needed, the following supplements and treatments may help protect the liver during chemotherapy:
Milk thistle: According to a 2020 study, silymarin extracted from milk thistle may help protect the liver from the effects of chemotherapy. A small study shows the potential of milk thistle as a preventative measure to protect the liver during chemotherapy. However, more studies are needed to fully understand the dosage and safety of milk thistle in preventing liver damage.
Traditional Chinese medicine: An older study from 2011 suggests that traditional Chinese medicine may help improve or maintain liver function during chemotherapy treatment. Another 2015 study notes that herbs and foods with antioxidant properties used in Chinese and Indian medicine have shown some success in preventing liver damage.
Eat foods with antioxidants: A 2015 study indicates that certain foods and supplements containing antioxidants may help prevent liver damage. Foods that contain antioxidants are carrots, grapes and citrus fruits. A person can discuss dietary changes with a doctor, especially if they have other pre-existing conditions or are taking other medications.
Other Ways to Prevent Injuries
Other ways can help prevent liver damage, including
drink more water
avoiding or limiting alcohol consumption
get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B
avoiding unnecessary medications
do not take recreational drugs
avoid mixing drugs and alcohol
adopt a nutritious and balanced diet
consult a doctor before taking any supplements or new medications
using condoms or other barrier methods during sex
However, it is important to note that more research is needed to determine if these methods can protect the liver.
Always consult a doctor before attempting any strategy or trying new methods.
How can chemotherapy affect the liver?
Chemotherapy can damage the liver. Damage to the liver caused by chemicals such as chemotherapy is known as hepatotoxicity. Lesions can be mild or severe and include the following:
hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
nodules in the liver
an increased risk of gallstones
an enlarged liver
an increase in liver enzymes without symptoms
fibrosis, hardening of the liver
cirrhosis, liver scarring
Chemotherapy drugs causing liver damage
Chemotherapy drugs known to cause liver damage include:
Signs that chemotherapy is damaging the liver
Chemotherapy can damage the liver, so a healthcare professional will likely check a person’s liver function before each chemotherapy session. If he finds problems with liver function, he may recommend changing the medications or reducing the dose.
Watch out for signs of possible liver damage. The following symptoms may appear in case of liver damage:
jaundice, a yellow tinge to the skin or eyes
swelling or pain in the abdomen
swelling of the legs, feet or ankles.
A person should tell their GP or healthcare team if they experience any unusual symptoms during their chemotherapy.
Are liver damage reversible?
In general, liver damage from chemotherapy can be treated. Once the chemotherapy treatment is finished, the liver should return to normal functioning.
Other risk factors
Several factors can increase the risk of liver damage during chemotherapy. Besides chemotherapy, other cancer treatments can increase the risk of liver damage or problems. These include the following treatments
stem cell transplant
Other factors may increase the risk of liver damage, including
drinking large amounts of alcohol
a tumor in the liver
living with other diseases, such as hepatitis, that affect the liver
surgery to remove a large portion of the liver
receive multiple blood transfusions
Chemotherapy and other cancer treatments can have adverse effects on the liver. A person can take steps to help protect their liver, including trying supplements or alternative medications and getting vaccinated against viral hepatitis, among others. However, further research is needed to investigate these methods. Also, a person should not try any of these methods without first discussing it with their doctor. A person should tell their doctor if they have any symptoms that could indicate liver damage. A healthcare professional will also likely check for liver problems during chemotherapy to help prevent serious problems from developing.