Liver cancer (known as hepatic cancer) is any type of cancerous disease that originates from the liver. There are many cancers that migrate from other parts of the body that find their way to the liver (liver metastasis), but when it comes to liver cancers, only those that begin in the liver qualify.
Liver cancers are typically described as uncontrolled growth of cells on or inside the liver. The organ itself is located under the right rib, and its functions include filtering toxins and breaking down nutrients necessary for your body. It also secretes bile into intestines and helps with clotting in your blood stream. Any cancer that develops in the liver will be harmful, impeding one, if not all, of the liver’s functions. You cannot live without your liver.
Those who have contracted a form of chronic viral hepatitis are at high risk of contracting liver cancer. Hepatitis-B and Hepatitis-C can be spread through unsanitary use of hypodermic needles and unprotected sex, as well as childbirth.
Heavy alcohol use can also increase the odds of contracting a form of liver cancer. Obesity and Type-2 Diabetes are also significant risk factors. Tobacco use also increases the odds of liver cancer. Exposure to arsenic, parasitic diseases, and other toxins are also known causative factors. Some forms of liver cancer are inherited.
There are several signs to look out for if you suspect you might have liver cancer. Abdominal pain or swelling in the area where the liver is located (just below the right ribcage) is typical in liver cancer patients. Unexplained weight loss, fatigue, nausea, and frequent vomiting are also signs that the liver isn’t functioning right. The most visible symptom of liver failure is jaundice, a condition that causes the skin, whites of the eyes, and sometimes the tongue to turn yellow.
Symptoms of liver cancer usually don’t appear until the disease is advanced. Keeping a watchful eye on your health is essential if you wish to detect liver cancer early.
Early screenings for liver cancer are necessary for those who have high risks of contracting the disease. The disease is not visibly detectable until it is in its late stages, early detection is vital to combating it.
There are a few ways to diagnose liver cancer. A blood test screening for alpha fetoprotein (afp) can let doctors know to do further testing as liver cancer cells tend to produce more of it. MRIs and CT scans can also detect liver cancer. A small biopsy of the liver can conclude definitively if cell growth on the organ is cancerous.
Types and Stages
There are several different types of liver cancer that can affect the liver in different ways. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of liver cancer in adults and can grow in two different ways: either it begins as one tumor that continues to enlarge or it can become many different tumors that develop throughout the liver.
- Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinomas, or bile duct cancer, is described as cancerous tumors that develop in the bile ducts of the liver (which transports the bile to the gall bladder).
- Hemangiosarcoma is a type of liver cancer that generally develops in the blood vessels of the liver. It occurs mostly in people that have been exposed to carcinogenic plastics, such as vinyl chloride or thorium dioxide. Tumors of this type of cancer grow too fast for surgery alone as a treatment option.
- Hepatoblastoma is a liver cancer that is rare and develops in children, usually under the age of five; though most cases occur before the age of two.
There are four stages of liver cancer.
- Stage I: The tumor has just developed and is located solely on or in the liver.
- Stage II: Small tumors have spread about the liver but haven’t spread elsewhere in the body; or, there is a tumor that has reached a blood vessel on the liver.
- Stage III: The tumors that were once smaller have grown larger, have possibly reached a blood vessel, and have also possibly affected the gall bladder as well.
- Stage IV: Occurs when the cancer has gone beyond the reaches of the liver and has spread to other parts of the body.
The survival rate of liver cancer is dependent upon a myriad of circumstances. The type of cancer, what stage it has entered, the health of the individual, and any other diseases that may be present are just a few examples. Each factor plays a part in determining what course of action and what likelihood a person may have at survival.
The rate of survival is higher for patients who are able to have their liver or part of their liver removed to get the cancerous tumors out. Liver transplants or partial liver removal increases the five-year survival rate enormously, to about 60-70 percent. Patients that aren’t able to utilize these methods see lower rates of survival. Where the cancer is localized in these patients – limited to only the liver — the five-year survival rate is around 30 percent. When the cancer has spread further from the liver to the rest of the body, the rate is even lower, down to around 2-7 percent. A healthy, organic diet with moderate exercise can help support the immune system and enhance the efficacy of treatments.
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