What is liver cancer?
Why is the liver important?
The liver takes part in many critical functions of the body. These include –
- Filtering blood and removing toxins
- Breaking down medicines and alcohol
- Helping in the digestion, absorption and storage of nutrients
- Helping in blood clotting
- Protecting the body from infections
Can I live without my liver?
What are the types of liver cancer?
Liver cancer is classified based on the origin of the cancerous cells.
- Primary liver cancer – Cancer starts in the liver
– Hepatocellular carcinoma
– Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (Bile duct cancer)
– Angiosarcoma (begins in the cells lining the blood vessels of the liver)
– Hepatoblastoma (occurs in children)
- Secondary liver cancer – Cancer originated in another organ such as the pancreas or stomach and spreads (metastasises) to the liver
What are the risk factors for liver cancer?
- Chronic viral hepatitis (hepatitis B or C infections)
- Liver cirrhosis
- Heavy alcoholism
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (for example, hemochromatosis)
- Long-term exposure to aflatoxins (produced by moulds that grow on crops such as peanuts, soybeans and wheat when they are improperly stored in moist and warm environments)
- Being exposed to toxins like vinyl chloride and thorium dioxide
- Certain inherited liver diseases
- Anabolic steroids (a synthetic version of testosterone sometimes used by athletes to improve performance and build muscles)
What are the ways to minimise the risk of liver cancer?
You can minimise the risk of liver cancer by –
- Testing and treating hepatitis B and C infections
- Hepatitis B vaccination (prevents long-standing hepatitis B viral infections)
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Avoiding smoking
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Storing food grains and crops in dry and cool areas to limit exposure to aflatoxin and discarding food grains with mould
- Limiting exposure to cancer-causing chemicals
What are the symptoms of liver cancer?
In the early stages symptoms may be absent but, in later stages patients may present with the following symptoms –
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling full after small meals
- Stomach pain
- Fluid accumulation in the belly
- Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
Why is the early diagnosis of liver cancer important?
How is liver cancer diagnosed?
If you report to your physician with symptoms of liver cancer, you will be taken through the following steps to diagnose the condition –
- Health history and physical examination – Patient’s history of habits and past illnesses; a physical examination to evaluate the patient’s health status and signs of disease
- Blood tests – To evaluate the general health status and detect tumour markers
- Liver function tests – To know the status of liver functions
- Imaging (Ultrasound, CT, MRI, PET scans) – To evaluate the site and spread of cancer
- Biopsy – To obtain liver cells to confirm liver cancer and identify its type
What is staging of liver cancer and why is it done?
After diagnosis, liver cancer is staged according to the site of involvement, the size of cancer and its spread to nearby or distant sites in the body.
The most commonly followed staging system is called ‘TNM staging’ –
- T stands for the size of the cancerous growth
- N stands for the involvement of lymph nodes
- M stands for distant spread (metastasis)
Based on the T, N and M status, the liver cancer is staged from Stage I to Stage IV.Higher stages denote a more advanced disease. Staging is done to help plan the treatment and to predict patient outcomes.
What is the treatment for liver cancer?
The treatment of liver cancer is determined by the health status of the patient, the stage of the cancer, and the extent of its spread. The treatment options available include –
- Thermal ablation
- Targeted medicines