Liver Cancer – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

The liver is the body’s largest internal organ, which plays an essential role in digesting food and removing toxic substances from the body. It is an organ about the size of a football situated on the right side of the abdomen. This organ is darkish red-brown and weighs three pounds.

Functions of the liver
  • It helps in producing bile.
  • The liver helps in producing blood plasma.
  • It helps produce cholesterol and special proteins that help carry fats in the body.
  • It regulates the blood levels of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein.
  • It regulates the function of blood clotting.
  • It removes bacteria from the bloodstream.

What is liver cancer?

Liver cancer is a type of cancer that affects the cells of the liver. Different types of cancer can develop in the liver, such as hepatocellular carcinoma, hepatoblastoma, intrahepatic and cholangiocarcinoma.

Cancer that begins in the liver cells is less common than cancer that spreads to the liver. Cancers that affect another body part and spread to the liver are called metastatic cancers.

Symptoms of liver cancer

Most people do not experience symptoms in the early stages of the condition. However, as the condition worsens, people will experience symptoms such as,

  1. Chalky stools
  2. Losing weight
  3. Fatigue
  4. Nausea 
  5. Vomiting
  6. Upper abdominal pain
  7. Skin becomes yellow
  8. Loss of appetitive
  9. Swelling in the abdomen
  10. Jaundice
  11. Pain in the right shoulder blade
  12. A swollen abdomen
  13. Feeling full after a small meal
  14. Easy bruising and bleeding

If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your Liver transplant surgeon  immediately.

Causes

Primary liver cancer or hepatocellular carcinoma occurs when the liver is damaged due to chronic infection, congenital disabilities or alcohol abuse. Greater than half the people diagnosed with primary liver cancer have Liver  cirrhosis. Liver Cirrhosis is a condition that occurs due to alcohol abuse. Liver cancer is often linked to fatty liver disease and obesity.

Risk factors

  • Diabetes
  • Race factors
  • Anabolic steroids (used by athletes)
  • Obesity and weight gain
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Other Rare diseases
  • Older than 60 years of age
  • Smoking 
  • Alcohol
  • Having Liver cirrhosis
  • Having any type of hepatitis infection

Liver Cancer Treatment 

Doctors who can treat liver cancers are interventional radiologists, gastroenterologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and surgical oncologists. The other specialists who participate in your recovery are nurses, nutritionists, social workers and rehabilitation specialists.

Types of Liver Cancer Treatment 

  • Surgery – If liver cancer is detected early, a surgery can be done to remove a part of the liver or the whole liver. A liver transplant surgery is required if you need to replace the whole liver.
  • Radiation therapies – Selective internal radiation therapy is used to treat liver cancer. Radioactive beads are injected into the liver’s blood supply to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours.
  • Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses powerful chemicals to kill fast-growing cells in your body (cancer cells). Certain medications are given if cancer spreads to other body parts.
  • Targeted drug therapy is used when you cannot have surgeries because you are too unwell. 
  • Ablation therapy is a treatment used for patients with small liver tumours. This treatment is not suggested for patients with degenerating health or older than 60 years of age. Tumours are destroyed during the surgery.
  • Liver transplant Suegry are the most used procedure for a fully damaged liver.

How is liver cancer diagnosed?

Tests include,

  • A blood test indicates abnormalities in the liver
  • A piece of the liver is tested in the laboratory for diagnosis.
  • Imaging tests such as ultrasounds, CT scans and MRI scans are taken to diagnose the condition.
  • Staging tests help in determining the size and location of cancer.

More than 99% of the time, a regular liver test will help your doctor diagnose the condition early. Patients usually dismiss any early symptoms, and that is a risk! Therefore, catching the disease early is essential to avoid severe and life-threatening complications later.