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Liver Cancer

Close up of feet | Healthier Me TodayLiver cancer is cancer that can be found in any part of the liver. Liver cancer that originates in the liver is primary liver cancer. If it spread to the liver from another organ, it’s called secondary liver cancer. The severity of liver cancer depends on where is it located, how big it is, and also if it’s primary or secondary liver cancer. Liver cancer is more common in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia than in the US. The American Cancer Society predicted that in 2021 about 42,230 new cases will be diagnosed and about 30,230 people will die from it.

The liver is a large organ in the body.  It is located in the upper right of the abdominal cavity and lies beneath the diaphragm. The liver can be divided into the right and left lobes. Blood vessels and bile ducts define the boundaries of eight different segments. The liver is the only internal organ capable of natural regeneration of lost tissue; 25% of a liver can regenerate into a whole liver!

The most important function of a liver is to produce bile. The liver produces bile for the body. Bile collects in the liver’s bile capillaries. Some of the bile is stored in the gall bladder, where it can be discharged into the duodenum and small intestine for the breakdown and digestion of fat. When food is fully broken down into carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, it is absorbed in the bloodstream and transported to the liver for processing.

Some nutrients, like sugar, are retained by the liver and released if the body requires additional energy. The liver stores iron, copper, and vitamins A,  D, B12, and K. It also produces coagulation factors, which are critical to stopping blood loss from damaged blood vessels. Another important role of the liver is cleansing the blood.

When there is an obstruction of any of the major functions of the liver, it might be an indication of liver cancer.


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Types of Liver Cancer

Hepatocellular Carcinoma: This is the most common type of liver cancer. This cancer begins in a widespread type of cell in the liver called hepatocyte. In some cases, cancer develops from a single tumor which grows progressively larger. In another type of hepatocellular carcinoma, cancer seems to develop as small cancer nodules that eventually spread throughout the liver. This is seen in most people having cirrhosis and is the most common kind of cancer found in the United States.

Other types of liver cancer include cholangiocarcinoma and hepatoblastoma, which are less common.

Symptoms of Liver Cancer

Usually, it is very difficult to detect liver cancer early on as there may be no prominent symptoms or they might be hard to spot.

  • Whites in the eyes and skin turn yellow (Jaundice)
  • Weight loss (without trying to lose weight) and loss of appetite
  • Low energy levels and fatigue
  • Feeling unwell or having symptoms of the flu
  • There is a lump in the right side of the stomach
  • Pain in the top right side of the abdomen or pain the right shoulder
  • Indigestion symptoms or feeling full quickly while eating

Who is at Risk for Liver Cancer?

Primary liver cancer can occur in anyone. It is unclear what might cause it.

It is more likely to happen if you are a man over the age of 60. Primary liver cancer is most common above the age of 85. People who have a history of medical conditions or diseases, like hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, HIV, gallstones, or have suffered from a parasitic infection of liver flukes, are at risk of getting liver cancer.

Another risk factor is genetics. The chances of getting liver cancer are much higher if you have an immediate family member who has had it. Lifestyle habits are also said to be one of the top factors that may lead to liver cancer.

Diagnosis of Liver Cancer

Some liver cancers can be detected early on by screening people who might be at risk, even if they don’t have any symptoms. Usually, though, it is commonly diagnosed when the cancer is causing noticeable symptoms. The doctor may recommend some tests which could include lab tests, biopsies of the liver tissue, or imaging tests.

Imaging tests are done to check suspicious areas that may be cancer. While doing the imaging tests, the doctor will have a clear idea from where he would like to take tissue for biopsy to learn how far cancer has spread and to give a direction for further treatment. Ultrasounds, in particular, are used to look at the liver and see if the tumors are growing in size. Other tests include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), angiography, bone scans, and lab tests like the alpha-fetoprotein blood (AFP) test.

Treatment of Liver Cancer

The treatment of liver cancer depends on whether it is primary or secondary liver cancer. In addition, the type of liver cancer, location, where it has spread to, and the health of the person having it are important factors. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, thermal ablation, radiotherapy, or using targeted medications. Although liver cancer is treatable, how the treatment procedure is done depends on individual patients rather than a general treatment by the physician.


FAQ

  1. Are fatty liver disease and liver cancer the same thing? Patients who have fatty liver disease, be it alcoholic or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, are at higher risk of having liver cancer. However, that does not mean that liver cancer would develop automatically. There is no evidence to suggest this.
  2. What is the number one cause of liver cancer? The most widespread-seen cause of liver cancer is chronic infections of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. The infections cause cirrhosis, which is responsible for making the cells cancerous.

Healthier Me Today is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment, always consult with your healthcare professional. Stay healthy!

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