Liver cancer is an abnormal, uncontrolled growth of cells in the liver. The liver is the largest internal organ of the body. It helps to regulate and store blood glucose (sugar). It helps get rid of drugs and toxins and produces important proteins. The liver also produces bile, which helps the body process fats and get rid of waste products. There are two types of liver cancer: primary and secondary.
Primary liver cancer starts from the cells of the liver. The two most common forms of primary liver cancer are:
Hepatoma, which is often, associated with cirrhosis and hepatitis B or C infections
Cholangiocarcinoma, a rare tumour developing in bile ducts cells.
Secondary liver cancer occurs when a cancer starts someplace else and spreads to the liver. A secondary liver tumour may not be found until it causes symptoms.
What are the causes of Liver Cancer?
Although the exact cause of liver cancer is not known, the contributing factors include:
- Heavy alcohol drinking
- Hepatitis B and C infections, cirrhosis, and other chronic liver ailments
- Chronic liver disease
What are the symptoms of Liver Cancer?
Symptoms of liver cancer are:
- Pain, especially in the abdominal area or around the right shoulder blade
- Loss of weight
- Loss of appetite
- Pain or swelling in the abdomen
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of eyes)
How to diagnose Liver Cancer?
To diagnose liver cancer, the physician notes the symptoms, checks for weight loss, malnutrition, weakness, examines for enlargement of the liver and other signs. Certain tests required include:
- Blood tests for anaemia and liver functions
- Alpha-fetoprotein level (a protein that sometimes occurs in the blood when liver cancer is present)
- Ultrasound exam of the liver
- CT scan
- Hepatic artery angiogram (a process in which a local anaesthetic is given and the person is injected with a dye-like substance; a series of x-ray pictures are then taken and examined for signs of any abnormal growths in the liver)
- Biopsy (a procedure in which a local anaesthetic is given and then a small sample of tissue from the liver is obtained through the skin with a hollow needle)
What is the treatment of Liver Cancer?
The treatment depends on the stage of the disease and whether it is primary or secondary liver cancer.