Health and Fitness

Liver cancer: Causes, diagnosis, and treatment

Our liver is one of the largest organs of the body and is responsible for a wide range of functions, such as purifying the body from harmful toxins, filtering the blood that circulates throughout the body, processing nutrients absorbed from the digestive tract, and removing other chemical waste products via excretion. The liver is undoubtedly very crucial to survival. Because the blood in the body must pass through the liver, it is highly exposed to cancer cells that may be travelling in the bloodstream. A liver cancer consists of malignant hepatic tumors that get created in or on the liver.

Key Facts

Liver cancer patients have a typically lower survival rate; the common risk factors of liver cancer include alcohol abuse, hepatitis, and diabetes; the signs or symptoms of liver cancer generally do not appear until the diseases is in an advanced stage; the treatment options for liver cancer may also include surgery and transplant. The liver is made up of many different types of cells, and thus, several types of tumors can get formed there. Some of these tumors can be are benign (non-cancerous tumors), while some can be cancerous and may also spread to other parts of the body. These tumors can have different types of causes and need to be treated differently depending upon the type of tumors.

Causes of Liver Cancer

Primary liver cancer (known as hepatocellular carcinoma) tends to occur in livers which are damaged by birth defects, or excessive alcohol abuse, or even by chronic infections such as hepatitis B or C, hemochromatosis (hereditary disease when there’s too much iron in the liver), and cirrhosis.

  • Cirrhosis is a common cause of liver cancer and more than 50% of all individuals diagnosed with primary liver cancer have cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is a scarring condition of the liver caused by excessive alcohol intake or abuse
  • Hepatitis B and C and hemochromatosis are known to cause a permanent damage and sometimes even failure of the liver
  • Obesity and fatty liver diseases can also trigger liver cancer
  • Many cancer-causing substances such as herbicides and chemicals such as vinyl chloride and arsenic can also trigger liver cancer
  • Smoking also elevates the risk or exposure
  • Aflatoxins (cancer-causing substances made by a type of plant) have also been identified as a probable cause. They can contaminate food products such as wheat, rice, corn, peanuts, and soybeans
  • Other less common causes include the androgen and estrogen hormones

Key Risk Factors Associated with Lung Cancer

  • Gender: Men are more prone to get the disease than women
  • Race or Skin Pigmentation: In the U.S., liver cancer is more common among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
  • Anabolic Steroids: Hormone abuse by sportspersons or athletes to increase muscle can increase the risk of liver cancer, especially if used for a long-term
  • Diabetes: Many research studies have suggested a positive correlation between diabetes and liver cancer. This is probably due to the link between diabetes and fatty liver
  • Metabolic Diseases: Inherited diseases which disrupt the normal metabolism mechanism of the body increase the risk of liver cancer
  • Other Rare Diseases: Some rare diseases such as alpha -1-antitrypsin deficiency, or tyrosinemia, or Wilson’s disease can also increase the chances of liver cancer

Lung Cancer Diagnosis

There are various means to diagnose liver cancer. A simple blood test can reveal how your liver is functioning and if there’s any anomaly. There are imaging tests which can be performed to detect or diagnose liver cancer, such as ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI. If your doctor suspects liver cancer, he may also suggest for a liver biopsy. Biopsy is the procedure of removing a sample tissue from the liver and testing it for a possible cancer. Once detected, the extent of the cancer is categorized into four stages:

  • Stage One: The tumors is in the liver and not yet spread to any another organ
  • Stage Two: There are several small tumors in the liver, or one of the tumors has managed to reach a blood vessel
  • Stage Three: There are multiple large tumors or when one tumors that has managed to reach the main blood vessels. In this stage, the cancerous cells may have also reached the gallbladder
  • Stage Four: The cancer has metastasized (spread to other parts of the body)

The subsequent course of treatment largely depends upon the stage of the cancer.

Lung Cancer Treatment

Fortunate individuals who have been diagnosed well in time in the early-stages of liver cancer can be treated WITH a surgery that removes the tumors completely out of the body. One such surgical treatment is Partial hepatectomy. This is performed when the tumors ARE small and occupies a very small part of the liver. As part of the treatment, the infected part of the liver is surgically removed. Partial hepatectomy is only recommended and considered to be an option for individuals who have an otherwise healthy liver function. However, many individuals in the US diagnosed with liver cancer have cirrhosis. This means that a hepatectomy is not suitable because it needs to leave behind enough healthy tissues for the liver to perform its functions normally after the procedure is done.

For individuals whose cancer is detected at a later stage, this procedure is not an option for treatment. This is because the cancer has already spread to other parts of the liver or other organs. A treatment option in such cases is getting a liver transplant. A successful transplant of the liver significantly reduces the risk of the cancer returning, and normal functioning can be restored. However, there are certain restrictions involved. Candidates for a liver transplant cannot have a tumors bigger than 5 centimetres or multiple tumors bigger than 3 centimetres. If the tumors are larger than this, the risk of the cancer returning is too great to justify the risky procedure. It is deemed as a risky procedure because the immune system may actually ‘reject’ the new or replaced organ, considering it to be a foreign body and attacking it instead.