The liver is one of the most vital organs which filters the blood coming from the digestive tract, before circulating it to the rest of the body. It detoxifies chemicals and metabolizes drugs. The liver also synthesizes proteins required for blood clotting and other functions.
Liver cancer is also known as hepatic cancer and Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common type of liver cancer.
Types of Liver Cancer:
- Primary Liver Cancer – this type of cancer originates in the liver. It tends to occur when the liver is damaged in the form of cirrhosis (a scarring condition of the liver), certain birth defects, alcohol abuse, chronic infection with diseases such as hepatitis B and C, hemochromatosis, obesity and fatty liver disease.
- Secondary or Metastatic Cancer – this type of cancer originates elsewhere in the body and moves to the liver most commonly from cancer of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract (colon cancer), lung cancer, renal cancer (cancer of the kidney), ovarian cancer and prostate cancer.
- Family history
- Excessive alcohol intake
The symptoms for Liver Cancer generally do not appear until the cancer is advanced.
Symptoms to look for in advanced stage:
- A hard lump on the right side just below the rib cage
- Swollen abdomen and discomfort in the upper abdomen (right side)
- Pain near the right shoulder blade or in the back
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Unusual tiredness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss for no reason
Having any of these symptoms does not mean it is cancer, but if one or more of them is noticed for more than 2 weeks, then a doctor must be seen and an immediate health screening is a must.
The diagnosis of liver cancer includes physical examination and history, serum tumour marker test, liver function test, CT scan and MRI. Biopsy is done along with laparoscopy to confirm the diagnosis.
Liver cancer as staged by Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer (BCLC) staging system is
Stage 0: Very early
Stage A: Early
Stage B: Intermediate
Stage C: Advanced
Stage D: End-Stage
Treatment of stages 0, A and B includes partial hepatectomy, total hepatectomy and liver transplant. The tumour can be ablated using radio frequency ablation, microwave therapy, percutaneous ethanol injection and cryoablation.
Treatment of stages C and D includes embolization therapy and is performed by using either transarterial chemoembolization (TACE), Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA), TransarterialRadioembolization or external beam radiotherapy with high dose focused conformal technology.
Liver cirrhosis and viral hepatitis can be detected early by regular health screenings.