Liver cancer is a disease of the liver cells that overgrow to form malignant tumours.
The liver is one of the most vital organs in the body responsible for removing toxins and storing nutrients. The earlier liver cancer is diagnosed, the more positive the prognosis.
Types of liver cancer
The liver is a complex organ and there is more than one type of liver cancer.
- Hepatocellular carcinoma: This is the most common form of liver cancer formed in the hepatocytes, or primary liver cells.
- Cholangiocarcinoma: This is also known as bile duct cancer to represent where it originates.
- Liver angiosarcoma: This cancer forms in the blood vessels.
- Hepatoblastoma This cancer is prevalent in infants and babies.
Causes of liver cancer are hard to define although the one or more of the following groups may be at risk:
- Those who have experienced hepatitis A, B or C.
- Alcoholics or those who have abused alcohol.
- Those who are overweight or obese.
- Those who have experience cirrhosis.
Liver cancer symptoms vary between patients and it’s important to seek medical attention for ANY persistent symptoms.
Symptoms may include one or more of the following:
- Nauseas and vomiting.
- Abdominal pain.
- Changes in stools – either diarrhoea or constipation.
- Bruising and bleeding.
Diagnosis is confirmed after a liver function test, CT or MRI scan and a biopsy.
This detailed level of testing provides accurate analysis, imaging and samples to determine the presence of cancer, the stage that it’s reached and whether the liver is a primary or secondary cancer site.
This complex level of testing will also help to determine treatment options.
Treatment will depend on the stage of the cancer and whether the liver is a primary or secondary site.
The following are all possible treatment options:
- Hepatectomy: This is the most common surgical procedure that removes part of the unhealthy liver.
- Liver transplant: A transplant may be considered if the tumour is large. A transplant is a major operation and won’t be considered if the liver is a secondary site for the cancer.
- Chemoembolisation and embolisation: An embolisation is a surgery to block the hepatic artery. This stops blood flow to the tumour and kills the cancerous cells. In a chemoembilsation, chemicals are injected beforehand to maximise the impact.
- Chemotherapy: This is the process of the patient being injected intravenously with chemicals that kill the cancer cells.
- Radiotherapy: This is a similar process but with high-intensity gamma rays administered by a machine that’s similar to an X-ray.
Both chemotherapy and radiotherapy will require ongoing sessions and may be integrated with surgery depending on the prognosis.
The earlier liver cancer is detected and diagnosed, the more positive the outcomes for the patient.
If the liver is the primary site for cancer, many patients go on to make a full recovery after treatment and resume a normal, healthy life.