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Liver Cancer: Signs and Symptoms, Treatments, Causes, and Risk Factors

Liver cancer stems within a body’s liver cells. The organ itself is the size of a football and sits above your stomach, under the diaphragm, within the upper right part of the abdomen.

While there are a variety of different types of liver cancer, the most common happens to be hepatocellular carcinoma, and this starts within the main liver cell type, referred to as the hepatocyte. Meanwhile hepatoblastoma and intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma are liver cancers that are far rarer.

Interestingly enough, not all cancers that strike within liver fall under the liver cancer umbrella. Sometimes a cancer tumor can form in another region of the body (i.e. lung, breast, or colon), and then it spreads to the liver. This is referred to as a metastatic cancer, versus liver cancer.

Much like any other type of cancer, early detection is key when it comes to diagnosis and being placed on a treatment plan to ensure the success around recovery. Below are some signs and symptoms of lung cancer, as well as an overview of treatments, causes, and risk factors.

Signs and Symptoms

A majority of liver cancer patients don’t general report signs and symptoms within the early stages of this illness; however, as it progresses, signs and symptoms do eventually pop up, and they include:

  • Weight loss without the effort
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue and general weakness
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Jaundice, which includes yellow discoloration of a person’s skin and the whites of their eyes
  • Chalky, white stools

 

Should you notice any of the above symptoms, it is highly recommended to pay a visit to your family doctor. Not only will an assessment put your mind to ease, but should you have an illness that is linked to these symptoms (whether it be liver cancer or anything else), the earlier you get diagnosed, the better the chance for recovery.

Treatment

Liver cancer treatments depend on the extent of the cancer, a patient’s age, health, and personal preferences. Treatments for this type of cancer include:

Surgery

There are a variety of options for patients under the liver cancer surgery umbrella. Some of these include:

  • Tumor Removal: There are certain cases where an operation to simply remove the tumor and a small area of liver tissue is an option; especially if a patient’s liver is functioning well and the tumor is small. This surgery also depends on where the cancer is located within a patient’s liver and their overall health.
  • Liver Transplant: This occurs when a patient’s damaged liver is so damaged by a tumor that it needs to be taken out and replaced with a healthy one. A patient would go on a liver donor’s list and once a match is found, a surgeon would perform the procedure.

 

Localized treatments

These types of liver cancer treatments involved targeted procedures that are applied directly to the tumors, or around the areas they reside in. Some of these options include:

  • Heating Cancer Cells: Referred to as radiofrequency ablation, electric currents heat up and eliminates cancer cells directly. A surgeon uses a CT scan or ultrasound as their guide, and inserts one or more thin needles within small incisions into a patient’s abdomen.
  • Freezing Cancer Cells: Alternatively, this procedure, referred to as cryoablation, kills cancer cells on the opposite side of the spectrum: using extreme cold. A doctor will place a cryoprobe, which contains liquid nitrogen, right onto the tumors in a patient’s liver. Images via an ultrasound help to monitor and guide the cryoprobe when it comes to freezing these cells.
  • Alcohol Injections: Pure alcohol is injected right into the cancer tumors either via an operation or the skin, to destroy the cancer cells.
  • Chemoembolization: This is a type of chemotherapy which is injected, and provides cancer cell-killing treatments to eliminate tumors.
  • Radiation Beads: Beads filled with radiation are placed right on a patient’s liver where they can deliver radiation right to the cancer tumor to eliminate it.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-level energy (i.e. protons and X-rays) to shrink tumors and damage cancer cells. During the procedure, a patient will lie on the table as a machine targets these energy beams to the precise points within the body where a cancer tumor lays, destroying cancer cells in the process.

Palliative Care

This is a specialized form of medical care that places an emphasis on offering pain relief and an increased comfort around symptoms when it comes to a serious disease. Palliative care specialists work with patients, their families, and doctors to provide an added layer of support to those who are suffering from liver cancer, as well as the support system around them. Palliative care works hand-in-hand with other liver cancer treatments.

Clinical Trials

This involves new treatment testing for liver cancers, as well as new approaches to current therapies. It’s important to note when working with clinical trials, patients are not always guaranteed recovery and side effects to these new trials are sometimes unknown.

Alternative Medicine

Alternative medicine treatments help with pain for those patients who are living with advanced liver cancer. While sometimes medicine does help, alternative medicines can work together with the current pain relief drugs to help enhance relief for patients. Then there are times when people simply don’t like the side effects with pain medications, and reach for these alternative treatments instead. Some alternative medicine treatments include:

  • Acupressure
  • Deep breathing
  • Acupuncture
  • Music therapy/listening to music
  • Massage

 

Causes

While it is unknown why liver cancer develops in a majority of cases, there are some instances where the cause is linked to chronic diseases connected to certain hepatitis infections.

Risk Factors

Risk factors that increase chances around developing liver cancer include:

HBV or HCV: Chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV) have known to enhance chances around developing the illness.

Cirrhosis: This irreversible and progressive illness results in scar tissue that appears on your liver and rises the risks around developing liver cancer.

Liver Diseases: Certain inherited liver conditions, including Wilson’s disease and hemochromatosis, can increase the chances around developing liver cancer.

Diabetes: Individuals with a blood sugar disorder have a heightened risk around developing liver cancer.

Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: A build-up of fat (not associated with alcohol consumption) within the organ heightens the chances around liver cancer.

Aflatoxins: Theses are poisons that are produced by molds growing on crops stored inadequately and can contaminate products like peanuts and corn, which can also make their way into other foods these products are made from. While the United States has safety regulations when it comes to aflatoxin, this is a more common issue in Asia and Africa.

Alcohol Consumption: Excessive daily alcohol consumption over a long period of time can create irreversible damage to a person’s liver and increase one’s risk around liver cancer.

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