In this article, you’ll get everything you need to know about liver cancer.
Liver cancer is a type of cancer that starts from the hepatic cells of the liver. Your liver is one of the most critical organs in your body and is responsible for some of its vital functions. It is on the right side of your abdomen. In 2019, an estimated 42,030 people in the U.S. will have primary liver cancer. The most common type of cancer that can arise from your liver is hepatocellular carcinoma. This type of cancer begins in the hepatocytes, which are the most essential and prevalent cells in your liver. It has a 5-year survival rate of 18%. Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma and hepatoblastoma are rare types of liver cancer. However, most commonly, the liver is the site that most metastases from other tumors take place.
What are the risk factors for liver cancer?
Certain factors may increase your risk of developing liver cancer. Some of the most common risk factors are the following:
- Chronic HBV or HCV infection
Chronic infection with the hepatitis B or C virus usually leads to liver cirrhosis and, eventually, liver cancer. Liver cirrhosis is a premalignant condition that significantly increases your risk for liver cancer.
- Liver cirrhosis
It is caused by conditions other than the hepatitis viruses will also increase your risk for liver cancer.
- Genetics/inherited liver diseases
Certain inherited liver diseases put you at high risk of developing liver cancer.
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterized by disturbed blood sugar levels. Research suggests that having diabetes increases your risk of developing liver cancer.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
People with this condition have significant amounts of fat accumulation in their liver, and a higher-than-average risk for liver cancer.
- Alcoholic liver disease
Excess alcohol consumption severely damages your liver and can put you at high risk for hepatic cancer.
- Exposure to aflatoxins
Aflatoxins are toxic and poisonous for the liver. They significantly raise your chances of getting liver cancer.
What causes liver cancer?
Liver cancer is the result of DNA mutations that happen in the hepatic cells. These DNA changes may lead to uncontrolled cell growth, finally leading to tumor formation. Sometimes, it is clear that cancer is the result of a previous condition, such as liver cirrhosis. However, other times, liver cancer does not have a profound cause. In this case, it presents in the absence of risk factors.
Sign and Symptoms of liver cancer
Most of the time, liver cancer is asymptomatic. Profound symptoms of primary liver cancer usually appear when the disease is in progressive stages. However, they are usually absent in the beginning. When present, they might be some of the following:
- Unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting
- Generalized fatigue
- Jaundice. The yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes.
- Dark urine
- Decolorized stools
How do you diagnose liver cancer?
Liver cancer diagnosis requires accurate tests done by a medical professional. Your doctor might suggest that you undergo some blood exams and evaluate the function of the liver. Ultrasound, MRI, or CT are some imaging interventions that will most probably reveal if you have liver cancer or not. Finally, one of the most accurate diagnostic methods is a liver biopsy, through which your doctor can see the cancerous tissue.
Physicians usually use the Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer (BCLC) staging system to describe the tumor and its size. Following, we present how does a stage corresponds to the size of the tumor.
Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer (BCLC) staging system
- Very early stage
The tumor is less than 2cm
The tumor is less than 5cm
- Intermediate stage
Large or multiple tumors
- Advanced stage
How do you treat liver cancer?
Treatment of liver cancer depends on the staging and grading of your cancer. You can treat it with surgery, either by removing the tumor or by performing a liver transplant surgery. Another option is chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or radiation therapy. Localized treatments are also available, such as freezing or heating cancer cells. Finally, some patients with an advanced stage of liver cancer may require palliative care, which treats only the symptoms.
How do you prevent liver cancer?
The following are some things you should or you shouldn’t do, to prevent or lower your chances for liver cancer:
- Correct screening and prevention of HBV and HCV infection are essential. You can protect yourself from HBV and HCV infections by avoiding sharing needles for injectable drugs, using a condom, and avoiding sex with multiple or positive partners.
- Avoiding obesity can help to protect against liver cancer. Keep in mind that a BMI of over 25 increases the risk of diabetes and fatty liver disease.
- Not drinking alcohol could help prevent liver cancer. Recommendations regarding healthy drinking are one glass of an alcoholic beverage for women, daily, and two glasses of an alcoholic beverage for men, daily.
- Quitting smoking will lower the risk of liver cancer.
- Avoid eating foods that contain aflatoxin B1.