Liver Cancer: Causes, Diagnosis, Types & Treatments
Liver Cancer - Overview
Liver cancer is called a "silent killer" for a reason. In most cases, the signs and symptoms go unnoticed until it's too late. This emphasis is on the dire need for early diagnosis in people who may tend to develop liver cancer.
Here's everything a person needs to know about liver cancer. This article may help a person identify the cause, symptoms, treatment, and prevention of liver cancer. Getting educated about silent killers like liver cancer can be the first step in identifying and preventing the disease.
What is liver cancer?
The abnormal growth of cells in the liver is called liver cancer. The liver is the largest internal organ. It performs several vital and critical functions to help the body eliminate waste and convert food and drugs into readily absorbable forms, etc. It is responsible for producing a chemical called bile, which helps digest fat, vitamins, and other nutrients.
When cancer develops in the liver, it destroys the ability of the liver to function normally. This, in turn, can cause an imbalance in the normal functioning of the body.
Primary liver cancer can develop within the cells of the liver. However, secondary liver cancer can develop when cancer spreads from other organs in the body to the liver; this type of cancer is also called metastatic cancer.
This article focuses on primary liver cancer, which means cancer that originates from the cells in the liver.
What are the types of liver cancer?
There are several types of liver cancer; it is differentiated based on the part of the liver or the type of liver cell that is affected.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)
Hepatocellular carcinoma or hepatoma develops in the hepatocytes, the main cells covering the major part of the liver. It is the most common type of primary liver cancer.
Cholangiocarcinoma is a cancer of the bile ducts present in the liver. Intrahepatic cancer is cancer that develops inside the bile duct in the liver. It is called extrahepatic cancer when cancer develops outside Liver in the bile duct. This type of liver cancer may constitute about 10 to 20% of primary liver cancer.
Angiosarcoma is a very rare form of primary liver cancer. This type of cancer develops in the blood vessels of the liver. This type of cancer has the potential to spread to other organs.
What are the stages of liver cancer?
Primary liver cancer stages (Hepatocellular carcinoma) include the following:
Development of a single small tumour that measures less than 2 centimetres (cm) is present. However, the bilirubin level will be normal.
Increase in the size of the single tumour, which measures around 5 cm or multiple tumours that measures less than 3 cm. The tumours may spread to blood vessels.
In this stage, the tumours may spread to large blood vessels, lymph nodes, or other organs.
This is an advanced stage, where cancer has spread to lymph nodes, lungs, and bones.
What are the symptoms of liver cancer?
A person may not experience any symptoms at the beginning of liver cancer. However, when the signs and symptoms do appear, they may include:
- Dark coloured urine
- Pale or clay-coloured stools
- Yellow-coloured skin or eyes (jaundice)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Unintentional weight loss
What are the causes of liver cancer?
Every cell in the body contains a genetic material called DNA, which tells the body how to function. High consumption of alcohol, chronic hepatitis due to hepatitis B and C virus, liver cirrhosis, an accumulation of fat in the liver, exposure to aflatoxins, and diabetes can cause mutation in the cells. This may result in over multiplication of cells, causing cancer.
How is liver cancer diagnosed?
The healthcare provider may recommend the following tests for the diagnosis of liver cancer.
The blood test will reveal the level of liver enzymes, proteins and bilirubin in your blood. It also identifies the presence of viruses like hepatitis virus that can affect liver function.
Imaging techniques like ultrasound, CT, and MRI can help doctors view the internal organ clearly.
In this technique, the doctor will observe a small piece of liver tissue under a microscope to check the presence of cancer cells.
What are the complications associated with liver cancer?
The liver tumours produce hormones that act on other organs and cause certain complications, as mentioned below:
- High levels of calcium (hypercalcemia), which can cause nausea, weakness, confusion, muscle cramps, etc
- Low blood glucose (sugar) levels can cause fatigue.
- Breast enlargement and shrinkage of testicles in men.
- Increased count of red blood cells.
- Increased cholesterol levels.
How is liver cancer treated?
Depending on the stage and severity of liver cancer, the treatment of liver cancer involves surgery to remove the affected part of the liver, liver transplantation, hepatic arterial embolization and ablation. Besides surgery, chemotherapy, chemoembolization, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy, and radioembolization are a few other techniques. The liver cancer treatment cost depends on the mode of treatment.
What can be done to prevent liver cancer?
Prevention of liver cancer is not completely possible. However, it is possible to lower the risk of developing liver cancer.
- Get vaccinated for hepatitis.
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
- Alcoholics, diabetics and obese people should consult a doctor and undergo a liver screening test.
- Limit alcohol consumption and quit smoking.
How do people live with liver cancer?
People with liver cancer consult their doctor on a regular basis. Even though a person has undergone liver transplantation or removed a part of the liver, there is always a chance that liver cancer may reappear. Therefore they undergo imaging and blood tests every three to six months for the first two years after treatment.
Liver cancer can develop at any stage of life. The symptoms are usually unnoticed, or there may not be any symptoms until it's too late. There are various modes of treatment available to treat the condition. However, it is ideal to get the body screened for any abnormalities at the earliest. Consult the doctor immediately if you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms of liver cancer.
To book an appointment with some of the best hepatologists in Hyderabad, call Gleneagles Global Hospital, Lakdi-ka-pul
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