Liver cancer is a serious illness that affects the cells of the liver. Though there are a few varieties of cancer that can affect the liver, the most common is called hepatocellular carcinoma, a condition which develops in hepatocytes, the cells that much of the liver is composed of. Other forms of liver cancer can affect the organ’s bile ducts or blood vessels.
Note that not all cancers of the liver are regarded as liver cancer. Cancer can spread to the liver from other parts of the body, too. In these cases, the cancer is considered metastatic cancer, not liver cancer.
Causes of Liver Cancer
Cirrhosis of the liver is the main cause of liver cancer worldwide. Cirrhosis can develop as a result of many liver conditions. Most commonly, the cirrhosis leading to liver cancer has developed as a result of Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, or alcohol abuse.
The hepatitis virus and alcohol abuse damage the liver, repeatedly scarring it. If this occurs over a long enough period of time, cirrhosis will occur. In advanced cases of cirrhosis, much of the liver will be covered in scar tissue. The cells of the organ are damaged by this scarring, and may replicate abnormally, ultimately leading to cancer.
Other factors that may increase the risk of developing liver disease and liver cancer include: diabetes, obesity, fatty liver disease, and genetic liver conditions.
The best way to prevent liver cancer is to make healthy lifestyle choices. Staying active, eating healthy foods, and limiting alcohol intake will reduce the odds of developing liver disease and liver cancer later in life.
Symptoms of Liver Cancer
Many of the symptoms of liver cancer overlap with symptoms of hepatitis, cirrhosis, and other forms of liver disease. In some cases, symptoms may not appear until the cancer has been present for some time.
- Symptoms of liver cancer include:
- loss of appetite
- noticeable weight loss
- upper abdominal pain
- swelling of the chest/stomach region
- fatigue and weakness
- white, chalky, or greasy stools
Treatment for Liver Cancer
There are a variety of treatment methods available for liver cancer. Though these techniques may extend patients’ lives for a few months or years, the outlook for most liver cancer patients is not good. Less than 20% of liver cancer patients live for five years or more.
Surgery is one of the most treatment options for liver cancer. This is the best option for individuals suffering from less-progressed liver cancer, as a hepatectomy can easily remove small tumors from the organ. As the liver can regenerate tissue, the organ can heal itself well after minor surgeries.
Liver transplants are possible for some individuals with early-stage liver cancer. In this treatment, the cancerous liver is removed and replaced with a healthy donor organ.
Temperature-based treatments can also be used to rid the liver of cancerous cells. Cryoablation can be used to freeze cancerous cells, or radiofrequency ablation can be used to destroy cancer using a heated electrical current.
Standard radiation therapy and chemotherapy drugs may also be used to treat liver cancer. Radiation, combined with injectable chemotherapy drugs, can destroy cancerous cells in the body. Therapy drugs may also be used on the liver, though this practice is not yet wide-spread.
In some cases, doctors may choose to use alcohol treatment on cancerous portions of the liver. Like other forms of treatment, an alcohol injection will kill the cancerous liver cells.
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with liver cancer, be sure to consult your doctor to find out what treatment options are available to you. The sooner liver cancer is treated, the better the odds are that it can be beaten.