Chemotherapy medications can cause damage to the liver, but a person may be able to take steps to help reduce their risk.
Chemotherapy is a relatively standard therapy for a variety of different cancers. Despite its potential effectiveness in treating cancer, it can also lead to potentially serious side effects, including mild to severe liver damage.
Many chemotherapy medications
A person may be able to take some steps to help protect their liver, but more research is necessary to investigate these methods.
This article will review possible ways to protect the liver, how chemotherapy may affect the liver, and more.
While more research is still necessary, 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. The National Cancer Institute (NCI)notes that a small study shows the potential for milk thistle as a preventive measure to protect the liver during chemotherapy. However, additional studies are necessary to fully understand the dosing and safety of milk thistle for preventing liver damage.
- Traditional Chinese Medicine: An older study from
2011suggests that traditional Chinese Medicine may help improve or maintain liver function during chemotherapy treatment. Another 2015study notes that herbs and foods with antioxidant properties used in Chinese and Indian medicines have shown some success in preventing liver damage.
- Eating foods with antioxidants: A
2015 studyindicates that some foods and supplements containing antioxidants may help prevent liver damage. Foods that contain antioxidants include carrots, grapes, and citrus fruits. A person can discuss dietary changes with a doctor, particularly if they have other preexisting conditions or are taking other medications.
Other ways to help prevent liver damage can include:
- drinking more water
- avoiding or limiting alcohol consumption
- getting the hepatitis A and B vaccination
- avoid unnecessary medicines
- do not take recreational drugs
- avoid mixing drugs and alcohol
- eat a nutritional, well-balanced diet
- check with a doctor before taking supplements or new medications
- use condoms or other barrier methods during sexual intercourse
- avoid chemicals
However, it is important to note that more research is necessary to investigate whether these methods can protect the liver. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve or recommend these methods.
Always talk with a doctor before attempting any strategy or trying new methods.
Learn about the connection between liver function and cholesterol production.
According to Breastcancer.org, chemotherapy can damage the liver. Damage to the liver due to chemicals such as chemotherapy is known as hepatotoxicity. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, the damage may be mild or severe and include:
- hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
- nodules in the liver
- an increased risk of gallstones
- an enlarged liver
- increased liver enzymes with no symptoms
- fibrosis, hardening of the liver
- cirrhosis, scarring of the liver
Some chemotherapy medications known to cause liver damage include:
- mercaptopurine (Purinethol)
- asparaginase (Kidrolase)
- thioguanine (Lanvis)
- cyclophosphamide (Procytox)
- carmustine (BiCNU, BCNU)
- cytarabine (Cytosar)
Because chemotherapy can cause liver damage, a healthcare professional will likely check a person’s liver function before each chemotherapy session. If they find any problems with liver function, they may recommend changes to medications or reduce the dose.
A person should watch for signs of possible liver damage. Some symptoms that may develop due to liver damage include:
- jaundice, a yellow tint to skin or eyes
- swelling or pain in the abdomen
- light-colored stool
- swollen legs, feet, or ankles
A person should inform their treating doctor or healthcare team if they experience any unusual symptoms during their chemotherapy.
Is liver damage reversible?
In general, liver damage from chemotherapy is treatable. Once a person has completed their chemotherapy treatment, the liver should return to normal functioning.
Several factors can increase the risk of liver damage during chemotherapy. In addition to chemotherapy, other cancer treatments can increase the risk of liver damage or issues. They include:
Other factors that can increase the risk of liver damage include:
- drinking large amounts of alcohol
- tumor in the liver
- living with other conditions, such as hepatitis, that affect the liver
- surgery to remove a large part of the liver
- having several blood transfusions
Chemotherapy and other cancer treatments can adversely affect the liver. A person can take steps to help protect their liver, including trying supplements or alternative medicines and getting vaccinated against viral hepatitis, among others.
However, more research is necessary to investigate these methods. Additionally, a person should not try any of these methods without first discussing them with their doctor.
A person should tell their doctor if they experience symptoms that may indicate liver damage. A healthcare professional will also likely check for possible liver issues during chemotherapy to help prevent serious problems from developing.