What you need to know about Liver Cancer

Facts & Stats

Liver cancer can be described as a type of condition where the normal cells of the liver start to behave abnormally. The cancer cells inside the liver start producing additional cells even though there is no need for that. These extra cells form tumors which becomes threatening to the adjacent normal tissues. Eventually they can spread to other parts of the liver or to distant lymph nodes and organs. Liver cancer is often referred to as hepatic cancer. The malignant cells developing in the hepatocytes or normal cells are known as hepatocellular carcinoma. Cancer which begins in the liver ducts is known as cholangiocarcinoma.

Symptoms

Liver cancer does not give rise to any symptoms and signs of its own. Once the tumor grows, pains may be felt along the right section of the abdomen. A person may also feel overly full even after eating only a little. In some cases, a patient may experience symptoms associated with cirrhosis of liver which frequently occurs before liver cancer. Common symptoms include the following:

  • Itching
  • Nausea
  • Jaundice
  • Vomiting
  • Swollen legs
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Pain in abdomen
  • Reduced appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Sensation of enlarged liver
  • Build-up of fluids in the belly
  • Increased swelling of belly and feet

Stages

Liver cancer is staged from 0 to IV where the Stage 0 is the earliest stage of cancer development. It is important to note that liver cancers are never detectable at this stage and most of the cases diagnosis is possible only in some advanced stages. During the Stage I, the cancer has already formed but there are no signs of spreading. Gradually as the cancer progresses through the various stages, the patient may experience a number of additional symptoms. The cancer breaches the wall of the liver and progresses to other organs once the condition reaches its final stage.

Causes

Liver cancer often affects people whose livers are already damaged by alcohol abuse, birth defects and chronic infection due to Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, hemochromatosis and cirrhosis of liver. Hemochromatosis, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C can lead to perpetual liver impairment and liver failure. In many cases, liver cancer is associated with fatty liver and obesity. Chemicals like arsenic and vinyl chloride have also been related to liver cancer. Smoking, a history of diabetes, inherited metabolic diseases, use of Anabolic steroid and rare diseases like tyrosinemia, alpha -1-antitrypsin deficiency and Wilson's disease have all been related to liver cancer.

Diagnosis

Ultrasound is the best way to diagnose liver cancer in patients of cirrhosis. After there is a strong suspicion of liver cancer, the doctor may recommend blood tests like alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) des-gamma-carboxy prothrombin to confirm the condition. CT scans and MRI scans can be carried out to observe the exact condition of the liver. In some cases, the medical expert may also decide to perform a laparoscopy or a liver biopsy to collect samples of infected cells and then study it under a microscope. It is important to note that a liver biopsy is not necessary in most cases and the other methods usually suffice.

Treatment

Liver cancer can be very difficult to diagnose at the early stages and this makes it difficult to carry out a successful treatment. In most cases, doctors will try to remove the tumor surgically. Chemotherapy is yet another method of treatment to prevent metastasis and make surgery possible. Cryotherapy and radiofrequency ablation (RFA) have been proven to deliver better results in many cases. Radiation therapy has its limitations but can be used in some instances. Radioembolization therapy can be used for cutting off blood supply to a tumor. In cases where patient has both cirrhosis and liver cancer, the doctor may opt for liver transplant. Advanced cases of liver cancer have got no treatment.

Prevention

It is important to prevent cirrhosis of liver as this can greatly reduce the chances of liver cancer. A person should also stay away from smoking and alcohol as they can greatly aggravate the chances for this condition. It is also important to take precaution against Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C to curb the chances of liver cancer. Additionally, it is always a good idea to stay away from harmful chemicals which can give rise to this form of cancer. You should also consult a doctor to go through regular checkups and get yourself properly educated about liver cancer.