The liver is a major organ found only in vertebrates, and which is responsible for detoxifying the body of various metabolites. It also synthesizes proteins and produces biochemical molecules necessary for digestion and growth. In humans, it is located in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen, below the diaphragm. It is the largest internal organ in man.
General, the liver does a lot for the body as it filters the blood and breaks down food. When you have liver cancer, some cells there grow out of control and form a tumour. The development of tumour can affect how well the liver works.
Symptoms of liver problem
Most people don’t notice any signs of liver cancer early on. When they do show up, you may:
Feel full easily or not want to eat; have a lump below your right rib cage; feel pain on the upper right side of your belly or near your right shoulder; have an upset stomach; have swelling in your belly, feel tired and weak; lose weight; have white, chalky poop and dark pee and also notice a yellowish colour (jaundice) in your skin and the whites of your eyes.
If you have liver disease
Certain diseases can make you more likely to get liver cancer, including: long-term attack from hepatitis B or C viruses that damage the liver; cirrhosis, which is liver damage that can make scar tissue replace healthy tissue; non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which results from a build-up of fat in your liver. A person could also have congenital liver diseases which they were born with. An example is hereditary hemochromatosis, which is a medical condition in which excess iron is stored in the liver and other organs.
Alcohol, obesity, diabetes raise the odds
One main cause of cirrhosis is drinking large amounts of alcohol over many years. Since cirrhosis can make you more likely to have liver cancer, it means that drinking heavily can make you more likely to get it. And if you’re very overweight or have diabetes or a condition called metabolic syndrome, you’re at higher risk of getting non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which can lead to liver cancer, too.
Toxins raise your chances
A number of toxins have been associated with causing liver cancer. Among these are the following:
Aflatoxins which are poisons made by fungal molds that can grow on crops such as corn and peanuts if they’re not stored the right way.
Arsenic: a chemical that can sometimes be found in well water;
Thorium dioxide: a substance once used for some kinds of X-rays. It is not used any more.
Vinyl chloride: a chemical used to make some kinds of plastics
Most common type
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) happens in the hepatocytes, the main cells of your liver. HCC usually causes one tumour that grows larger over time. But if you have both cirrhosis and HCC, you’re likely to have many small tumours spread throughout the liver.
Other types of liver cancer
Cancer can occur in the bile ducts of the liver. The ducts are tubes that carry bile out of the liver to the gallbladder. Bile is a flluid involved in the digestion of foods. This is the second most common kind of liver cancer. Angiosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma are cancers found in liver’s blood vessels. Both are rare and sometimes caused by toxins. Hepatoblastoma is a very rare cancer that happens mostly in children who are under four years.
As with all other medical conditions, when your doctor suspects that you might have liver cancer, he may recommend the steps are taken to diagnose liver disease.
Biopsy is a basic surgical process in which the doctor takes a small sample of the liver to test for histological study, to test for cancer.
These check how well the liver is working and looks for things in your blood that may be signs of cancer, called tumour markers.
In this a radiologist uses medical diagnostic imaging systems such as ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, or an angiogram, which is a kind of X-ray that looks at your blood vessels.
Cancer often goes through stages, which lead it to spread to other tissues. The particular indicates far the cancer spread.
One tumour that hasn’t spread anywhere else;
One tumor that’s spread into blood vessels or more than one tumour, but all smaller than 2 inches;
One tumour that’s spread to major blood vessels or nearby organs, or more than one tumour and at least one of them is larger than 2 inches;
The cancer has spread to other body parts.
Other ways to stage liver cancer
Most people with liver cancer also have liver damage, so the doctor may use a staging system that also tells you how healthy your liver is. One that’s used often is the Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer (BCLC) system. Its stages are 0, A, B, C, and D. Typically, C and D can’t be cured, but treatment can help with symptoms.
Surgery or transplant
When liver cancer is diagnosed quite early, it is possible to treat it successfully. But the challenge is that it is often discovered at a late stage. Treatment for liver cancer depends on the stage as well as the person’s overall age, health, and the health of the liver. If the cancer hasn’t spread and you don’t have other liver problems, you may have:
Surgery to remove the tumour
A liver transplant, where you get a new liver from a donor. This isn’t common.
This tries to kill cancer cells in different ways:
Alcohol: Your doctor puts pure alcohol into the tumors to destroy them.
Freezing: Your doctor uses a thin, blunt instrument called a probe to freeze and kill tumor cells.
Heat: Microwaves can make enough heat to destroy tumors.
Electrical pulses: Bursts of electricity kill cancer cells (this is still being tested).
The liver gets blood from two main blood vessels. Tumors usually use just one: the hepatic artery. With embolization therapy, a thin tube goes into the thigh and gets to the artery supply the live. A substance is into the tube to block blood flow through there and starve the tumour of nutrients. The liver will still get blood through the other blood vessel. Chemotherapy drugs or radiation beads also may be put in through the tube.
Cancer cells work in a different way from normal cells. Targeted therapy uses drugs designed to attack cancer cells based on those differences. This may keep tumours from making blood vessels they need to survive, or it may stop tumour cells from dividing so they can’t grow.
Can you prevent it?
It is not exactly possible to prevent cancer, but a person through discipline and lifestyle modifications can lower the risk of developing liver cancer. The first step is to receive hepatitis B vaccination. Other measures that can be taken include:
(a) Maintain a healthy weight by eating the right foods and exercising regularly.
(b) Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
(c) Don’t use intravenous (IV) drugs, but if you must do so, then use clean needles.
(d) If you are interested in having tattoos and piercings, then ensure that these processes are done at safe and clean shops.
(e) Maintain mutual fidelity with your partner; otherwise, practice safe sex.
…Adapted from webmd.com