About Liver Cancer

The liver is located in the top right part of the abdomen and forms an integral part of the digestive system and comprises different cells. When liver cells undergo abnormal changes, they grow and multiply uncontrollably, resulting in liver cancer. There are different types of liver cancer, with hepatocellular carcinoma being the most common. Liver cancer treatment options depend upon the type of liver cancer. Liver cancer that begins in the liver cells is called primary liver cancer and is less common than cancer than secondary liver cancer that spreads to the liver from other parts of the body. Though liver cancer is relatively common in many parts of the world, it is rare in the UK. Liver cancer life expectancy varies based on factors like stage of cancer, age of the patient, and underlying medical conditions like cirrhosis, among others.

Symptoms

In the early stages, liver cancer shows no symptoms. However, some people may experience vague symptoms like fatigue, fever or chills. 

Other symptoms of liver cancer that may eventually appear are:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Jaundice (characterised by yellowing of the skin and white of the eye)
  • Itching of the skin
  • Nausea
  • A general feeling of sickness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • A lump or growth in the right side of the abdomen
  • Swelling in the legs

The symptoms of liver cancer depend upon the location of the tumour. They also help your doctor and healthcare team determine how to treat liver cancer.

Diagnosis

After symptom assessment and a physical evaluation, your doctor may recommend you to undergo the following tests to help diagnose liver cancer:

  • Blood tests

Complete blood count, liver function tests and tumour marker tests are done to detect any abnormalities in the parameters. Tumour markers are substances released by the cancer cells and can help identify the type of cancer. For example, in the case of hepatocellular carcinomas, the level of alpha ferroprotein (AFP) is higher than usual.

  • Liver ultrasound

High-frequency waves are used to create an image of the liver and help the doctor spot any abnormal tissue changes.

  • Imaging tests like CT scan MRI

These tests provide detailed images of the internal organs and help detect any growths or abnormalities.

  • Angiogram

A dye is injected into an artery to study any growth in liver tissues.

  • Laparoscopy

A small tube is inserted into the abdomen to study the liver and other nearby organs for unusual growths.

  • Biopsy

If other tests indicate an abnormal growth in the liver or nearby tissues, your doctor may advise a biopsy to determine the nature of the cells and confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment

Your liver cancer treatment options depend upon the location of cancer, size and spread, type (primary or secondary), liver functioning, and overall health. 

The standard treatment options for primary liver cancer are:

  • Surgery

 

  • Chemoembolisation: A type of chemotherapy given directly into the liver and cuts off the blood supply to the tumour.

 

  • Radiofrequency ablation: In this treatment, heat is applied directly to the tumour to kill cancer cells.

 

  • Targeted drug therapy: Specific drugs are targeted to the tumour to shrink the tumour or prevent it from spreading.

 

  • Radiotherapy: High-energy x-rays are used to kill cancer cells.

 

In advanced stage 3 and stage 4 liver cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, a combination of one or more treatments may be needed to reduce symptoms and prolong life.

 

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