Liver cancer is cancer that occurs in the liver. The liver is the largest glandular organ in the body and performs various critical functions to keep the body free of toxins and harmful substances.The liver is located in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen, right below the ribs. It's responsible for producing bile, a substance that helps you digest fats, vitamins, and other nutrients.
What are the different types of liver cancer?
The different types of liver cancer originate from the various cells that make up the liver. The main types of primary liver cancer are:
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), also known as hepatoma, is the most common type of liver cancer, accounting for 75 percent of all liver cancers.
More commonly known as bile duct cancer, cholangiocarcinoma develops in the small, tube-like bile ducts in the liver. These ducts carry bile to the gallbladder to help with digestion.
Liver angiosarcoma is a rare form of liver cancer that begins in the blood vessels of the liver. This type of cancer tends to progress very quickly, so it's typically diagnosed at a more advanced stage.
Hepatoblastoma is a scarce type of liver cancer. It's nearly always found in children, especially those under age 3.
What are the symptoms of liver cancer?
Many people don't experience symptoms in the early stages of primary liver cancer. When symptoms do appear, they may include:
abdominal discomfort, pain, and tenderness
yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes, which is called jaundice
white, chalky stools
bruising or bleeding easily
Who is at risk for liver cancer?
Doctors aren't sure why some people get liver cancer while others don't. However, certain factors are known to increase the risk of developing liver cancer drugs:
Liver cancer is more common in people over age 50.
A long-term hepatitis B or C infection can severely damage your liver.
Having two or more alcoholic beverages every day over many years increases your risk for liver cancer.
Cirrhosis is a form of liver damage in which healthy tissue is replaced by scarred tissue.
Diabetes and obesity are also risk factors. People with diabetes tend to be overweight or obese, which can cause liver problems and increase the risk for liver cancer.
How is liver cancer diagnosed?
Diagnostic tests and procedures for liver cancer include the following:
Liver function tests help your doctor determine your liver's health by measuring levels of proteins, liver enzymes, and bilirubin in your blood.
The presence of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) in the blood can be a sign of liver cancer. This protein is usually only produced in the liver and yolk sac of babies before they're born.
Abdominal CT or MRI scans produce detailed images of the liver and other organs in the abdomen. They can allow your doctor to pinpoint where a tumor is developing, determine its size, and assess whether it has spread to other organs.
How is liver cancer treated?
Treatment for liver cancer varies. It depends on:
the number, size, and location of the tumors in the liver
how well the liver is functioning
whether cirrhosis is present
whether the tumor has spread to other organs
Your specific treatment plan will be based on these factors. Liver cancer treatments may include the following:
A hepatectomy is performed to remove either a portion of the liver or all of the liver.
A liver transplant involves replacing the entire diseased liver with a healthy liver from a suitable donor.
Ablation involves the use of heat or ethanol injections to destroy the cancer cells. It's performed using local anesthesia.
Chemotherapy is an aggressive form of drug therapy that destroys cancer cells. The medications are injected intravenously or through a vein.
Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy radiation beams to kill cancer cells. It can be delivered by external beam radiation or by internal radiation.