Primary liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) tends to occur in livers damaged by birth defects, alcohol abuse, or chronic infection with diseases such as hepatitis B and C, hemochromatosis (a hereditary disease associated with too much iron in the liver), and cirrhosis.
Several types of cancer can form in the liver. The most common type of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma, which begins in the main type of liver cell (hepatocyte). Other types of liver cancer, such as intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma and hepatoblastoma, are much less common.
How is the Liver important to Body?
By definition, the liver is a large, meaty organ that sits on the right side of the belly. In addition, the liver also detoxifies chemicals and metabolizes drugs. As it does so, the liver secretes bile that ends up back in the intestines.
On the other hand, the liver also makes proteins important for blood clotting and other functions. Also, the liver continuously filters blood that circulates through the body. In that case, converting nutrients and drugs absorbed from the digestive tract into ready-to-use chemicals.
The liver performs many other important functions, such as removing toxins and other chemical waste products from the blood and readying them for excretion. Because all the blood in the body must pass through it, the liver is unusually accessible to cancer cells traveling in the bloodstream.
What is Liver Cancer?
Liver cancer is cancer that begins in the cells of your liver. Your liver is a football-sized organ that sits in the upper right portion of your abdomen, beneath your diaphragm and above your stomach.
Cancer that spreads to the liver is more common than cancer that begins in the liver cells. Cancer that begins in another area of the body — such as the colon, lung or breast — and then spreads to the liver is called metastatic cancer rather than liver cancer.
This type of cancer is named after the organ in which it began — such as metastatic colon cancer to describe cancer that begins in the colon and spreads to the liver.
What are the Symptoms of Liver Cancer?
Signs and symptoms of cancer often do not show up until the later stages of the disease. But, sometimes they may show up sooner.
If you go to your doctor when you first notice symptoms, your cancer might be diagnosed earlier. Eventually, when treatment is most likely to be helpful.
Some of the most common symptoms of liver cancer are:
- Loss of appetite,
- Upper abdominal pain,
- Nausea and vomiting,
- Losing weight without trying to do so,
- General weakness and fatigue,
- Enlargement of the liver,
- Enlarged spleen,
- Distended abdomen,
- Yellow discoloration of the skin and the white of the eyes (jaundice),
- Dark urine,
Additionally, there is an occurrence of Pale (sometimes nearly white) urine, Chalky stools, Easy bruising or bleeding, and Fever.
Having one or more of the symptoms above does not mean you have any liver affiliated cancer. In fact, many of these symptoms are more likely to be caused by other conditions.
When do you see a doctor?
Above all, if you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to have them checked by a doctor so that the cause can be found and treated if needed.
Most people don’t have signs and symptoms in the early stages of cancer. When signs and symptoms do appear, it is important to consider an appointment with your doctor.
Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience any signs or symptoms that worry you.
In many countries, liver cancer is the most common type of cancer, with more than 800,000 people diagnosed each year worldwide. Not forgetting, the liver is necessary for survival.
What Causes Liver Cancer?
In reality, liver cancer happens when liver cells develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. A cell’s DNA is the material that provides instructions for every chemical process in your body.
In other words, the DNA mutations cause changes in these instructions. One result is that cells may begin to grow out of control. And eventually, form a tumor — a mass of cancerous cells.
Sometimes the cause of cancer is known, such as with chronic hepatitis infections. But sometimes liver cancer happens in people with no underlying diseases and it’s not clear what causes it.
Hepatocellular carcinoma accounts for the most type of cancers: This type of cancer occurs more often in men than women and is usually seen in people age 50 or older. However, the age varies in different parts of the world.
In most cases, the cause of cancer is usually scarring of the liver (cirrhosis): Notably, cirrhosis may be caused by several factors. Like alcohol consumption, Autoimmune diseases of the liver, Hepatitis B or C viral infections too.
As well as, Chronic inflammation of the liver, and Iron overload in the body (hemochromatosis).
What are the Risk Factors of Liver Cancer?
As an example, primary cancer, which starts in the liver, accounts for about 2% of cancers in the U.S. alone. Not to mention, as well as up to half of all cancers in some undeveloped countries.
This is mainly due to the prevalence of hepatitis, caused by contagious viruses, that predisposes a person to liver cancer. In the U.S., primary liver cancer strikes twice as many men as women, at an average age of 67.
Factors that may increase the risk of primary liver cancer include:
- Alcohol Consumption – Alcohol has been declared a Group 1 carcinogen, which means that there is sufficient evidence that it causes cancer in humans.
- Exposure to aflatoxins – Consuming foods contaminated with fungi that produce aflatoxins.
- Age – In developing countries of Asia and Africa, liver cancer diagnosis tends to occur between 20 and 50.
- Liver diseases that can increase the risk for liver cancer include hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease.
- Individuals with this blood sugar disorder have a greater risk of liver cancer.
- Gender – Research shows that men are more likely to develop liver cancer than are women.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- Obesity – Having an unhealthy body mass index increases the risk of liver associated cancer.
How do you diagnose Liver Cancer?
The following procedures contribute to the diagnosis of liver and cancer types. And in that case, ordered by your treating physician or consultant. Including:
- Ultrasound – A test that uses sound waves to look for masses in the liver.
- Computed tomography (CT) – The CT scan is an x-ray test that produces detailed cross-sectional images of your body.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – Like CT scans, MRI scans provide detailed images of soft tissues in the body, but use radio waves and strong magnets instead of X-rays.
- Angiography – An angiogram is an x-ray test for looking at blood vessels. Contrast medium, or a dye, is injected into an artery to outline blood vessels while x-ray images are taken.
How do you Prevent Liver Cancer?
The liver can be affected by the primary type of cancer, which arises in the liver. Or by cancer which forms in other parts of the body and then spreads to the liver.
Most cancer is secondary or even metastatic cancer. Meaning it started elsewhere in the body. So, with this in mind, how do you prevent cancer?
1. Ask your doctor about liver cancer screening
For the general population, screening for this type of cancer hasn’t been proved to reduce the risk of dying of liver cancer. And it isn’t generally recommended.
People with conditions that increase the risk of liver cancer might consider screening, such as people who have:
- Hepatitis B infection
- Hepatitis C infection
- Liver cirrhosis
Discuss the pros and cons of screening with your doctor. Together you can decide whether screening is right for you based on your risk.
Screening typically involves a blood test and an abdominal ultrasound exam every six months.
2. Seek treatment for Hepatitis B or C Infection
In the first place, get vaccinated against Hepatitis B. After all, you can reduce your risk of hepatitis B by receiving the hepatitis B vaccine.
Important to realize, the vaccine can be given to almost anyone, including infants, older adults and those with compromised immune systems.
Treatments are available for hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections. Research shows that treatment can reduce the risk of liver cancer.
3. Take measures to prevent Hepatitis C
No vaccine for hepatitis C exists, but you can reduce your risk of infection.
- Know the health status of any sexual partner. Don’t engage in unprotected sex unless you’re certain your partner isn’t infected with HBV, HCV or any other sexually transmitted infection. If you don’t know the health status of your partner, use a condom every time you have sexual intercourse.
- Don’t use intravenous (IV) drugs, but if you do, use a clean needle. Reduce your risk of HCV by not injecting illegal drugs. But if that isn’t an option for you, make sure any needle you use is sterile, and don’t share it. Contaminated drug paraphernalia is a common cause of hepatitis C infection. Take advantage of needle-exchange programs in your community and consider seeking help for your drug use.
- Seek safe, clean shops when getting a piercing or tattoo. Needles that may not be properly sterilized can spread the hepatitis C virus. Before getting a piercing or tattoo, check out the shops in your area and ask staff members about their safety practices. If employees at a shop refuse to answer your questions or don’t take your questions seriously, take that as a sign that the facility isn’t right for you.
4. Reduce your Risk of Cirrhosis
Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver, and it increases the risk of cancers. However, you can reduce your risk of cirrhosis if you:
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount you drink. For women, this means no more than one drink a day. For men, this means no more than two drinks a day.
- Maintain a healthy weight. If your current weight is healthy, work to maintain it by choosing a healthy diet and exercising most days of the week. If you need to lose weight, reduce the number of calories you eat each day and increase the amount of exercise you do. Aim to lose weight slowly — 1 or 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kilogram) each week.
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