What is Liver Cancer?
Cancer causes the excessive spread of abnormal cells throughout the body. Thus, the growth and development of healthy body cells either slow down or come to a halt. Liver cancer, therefore, affects the cells of the liver. It can hamper its proper functions, including the production of bile and proteins, filtration of blood, blood clotting, energy and nutrients storage, etc. Studies have shown that men are more at risk to develop liver cancer than women. Similarly, people above 50 are more prone to the disease. Tumors, such as cysts, lipoma, etc also start to develop in the cells of the liver as cancer spreads throughout the body. Read on to know more, including liver cancer symptoms.
Liver cancer is mainly of two types: primary and secondary.
Primary liver cancer originates in the liver itself. It is also referred to as hepatocellular carcinoma. Cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer), angiosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma (cancers in the blood vessels of the liver), hepatoblastoma (cancer found in children) are some of the forms of primary liver cancer. Secondary liver cancer, on the other hand, spreads to the liver from other organs. It is also known as metastatic liver cancer.
Liver Cancer Causes and Risk Factors:
Several factors can cause liver cancer in the body and also act as risk factors for the same. These are as follows:
- Disturbances in the metabolism process and mutations in the DNA.
- People diagnosed with diabetes, hepatitis B, or C have a higher chance of developing liver cancer. Similarly, those who are obese and have poor immunity are also at risk.
- The scarring of the healthy liver tissues, known as cirrhosis, and fatty liver disease can also be contributing factors.
- Excessive smoking and alcohol intake are other reasons.
- People who have this disease running in their families are likely to develop the same.
- Hemochromatosis, which is the excess accumulation of iron in the liver, is also linked to liver cancer.
- Intake of food, like corn and nuts, which is contaminated with aflatoxins, a poisonous fungus, and the consumption of anabolic steroids to increase the strength of the muscles, can also cause this disease.
Liver Cancer Symptoms:
Liver cancer symptoms include:
- loss of weight and appetite
- abdominal pain and swelling
- formation of a lump on the stomach
- pain near the right shoulder or in the back
- enlargement of the liver, etc.
Liver Cancer Stages:
Liver cancer is usually classified into four stages, depending on its spread in the body. The stages are thus proportional to the spread of cancer.
Stage I: The tumor is present only in the liver and not in any other organs of the body.
Stage II: A tumor has advanced to a blood vessel or numerous minute tumors are present in the liver itself.
Stage III: Several large tumors are present or one tumor has advanced to other organs, lymph nodes, and blood vessels.
Stage IV: Cancer has expanded and is severely impacting the other body parts.
Diagnosis of Liver Cancer:
- A physical examination of the person might be done to look for the liver cancer symptoms, such as jaundice or swelling in the abdomen region. Health experts may also ask the patient about his medical history to get better insights.
- Liver cancer can further be diagnosed through various methods, including imaging scans via ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, etc. These help the doctors to assess the size and place of the tumor.
- Blood tests are conducted to check the levels of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP).
- A biopsy may also be done in which a sample of the liver tissue is taken through the use of needles for examination purposes.
Complications from Liver Cancer:
Complications such as hair loss, bleeding, anemia (low red blood count), blockages in the functioning of bile ducts, etc can result from surgeries if the liver cancer has advanced to later stages. The chances of survival also become low as the disease spreads throughout the body. Liver cirrhosis also adds to the complications, since it can develop into cancer.
Laparoscopy, which involves the usage of incision, tubes, and cameras, is also used to scrutinize the developments of liver cancer in the body.
Treatment for Liver Cancer:
- The treatment plan for the disease will depend on various factors, including the age of the patient, location and size of the tumor, the functioning state of the liver, the stage and spread of the liver cancer, etc.
- Surgeries can be performed in which the doctors remove the tumor. This is known as hepatectomy. Partial hepatectomy means taking out only the infected part of the liver organ. A liver transplant or complete hepatectomy can also be done in which the dysfunctional liver is replaced with a healthy one. It reduces the chances of the return of cancer. Hepatectomy is however not suitable if cancer has spread in different parts of the body. Also, the immune system, sensing the new liver as a foreign particle, may start to attack it.
- Embolization is another surgery in which certain substances are injected into the arteries to restrain the flow of blood in the tumor area, thus, suppressing its growth.
- Certain therapies, including chemotherapy, ablative therapy, and radiation therapy can also be used to prevent the spread of liver cancer if it has developed into its later stages.
- In ablative therapy, electromagnetic and heat waves are used to curb the growth of tumors.
- Similarly, cryoablation involves freezing the tumor cells.
- In radiation therapy, x-ray beams are directed towards the cancer cells to diminish their spread.
- In chemotherapy, drugs and injections are inserted into the vein to destroy the spread of the tumor.
- Immunotherapy involves the usage of drugs that assist the immune system in fighting the disease.
- On a similar note, target therapy, as the name suggests, focuses on drugs that directly target and kill the cancer cells, thereby, reducing their advancement.
Prevention of Liver Cancer:
Liver cancer can be prevented by following some measures, such as:
- Reducing alcohol intake
- Quitting smoking
- Losing weight
- Having a healthy diet
- Getting vaccinated against hepatitis B is also recommended since the infection is one of the causes of the disease.
- Similarly, having protected sex and using uncontaminated needles during blood transfusions and tattoo piercings can reduce the chances of getting infected with hepatitis C, another reason for the development of liver cancer.
- Keeping diabetes and cholesterol levels under moderation is also necessary for the healthy functioning of the liver.
- Screening for the disease can help in preventing its spread in the early stages.
A beneficiary guide for liver cancer has been provided. Liver cancer symptoms, causes, stages, diagnosis, complications, treatment, and prevention have been mentioned to provide a one-stop for all the details regarding the disease.