Liver cancer has been listed as the third leading cancer-related death-causing disease worldwide, whereas liver cancer and stomach cancer is known to have taken the first two positions. The great news is that liver cancer in the primary stage is curable. Vaccines are also available to help reduce the chances of developing liver cancer, but only hepatitis B vaccines are there, hepatitis C vaccines are not there yet. Avoid consuming too much of alcohol, exercise daily and eat healthy food.
Our liver functions in all ways to keep our body fit and healthy. It filters blood continuously and circulates it throughout the body, it also coverts nutrients and drugs absorbed from the digestive system into ready-to-use chemicals for our body. The liver removes toxins and other chemical products from the blood. Bile is produced in the liver that helps to digest vitamins, fats and other nutrients. When cancer develops in the liver it destroys the liver cells and disrupts the entire mechanism leaving it in a dysfunction state.
Liver cancer can be classified as primary or secondary, where primary liver cancer starts in the cells of the liver and secondary liver cancer develops when cancer cells spread to the liver from another organ that has been infected. The issue with cancer cells is that unlike other cells, cancer cells tend to break away from its primary site and travels to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system or bloodstream.
What is liver cancer?
Cancer that develops in the liver, liver cancer occurs when the liver cells start to multiply at an abnormal ratio, most of the liver cancers developed are secondary (started elsewhere in the body), while other causes of liver cancer include the prevalence of hepatitis. Some of the liver cancer can be benign (noncancerous) or metastasize (spreads to other organs of the body. Hepatocellular carcinoma is one of the common types of liver cancer. It was estimated by the American Cancer Society (ACS) that approximately 42, 030 people carried the possibility of developing cancer in the year 2019. The liver is one of the vital organ present in our body and is made up of several types of cells that increase the risk of developing several kinds of tumours.
Cyst, fibroma, hepatic adenoma, hemangioma, focal nodular hyperplasia, and leiomyoma are some benign tumours that can form in the liver. All such tumours are not regarded as liver cancer and if needed (pain or bleeding) they are removed with the help of surgery. Such tumours, when diagnosed at an early stage, can be treated and cured with the help of medications. Liver cancers can be categorized as-
- Unresectable ( T1 to T4, N0, M0 tumours)
- Potentially resectable or transplantable ( stage I and stage II)
- Advanced (metastatic, N1 or M1 tumours)
- Inoperable with only local disease (Small cancer that can be removed by surgery but the patient in most cases doesn’t stay fit enough to undergo an operation)
Signs and symptoms of Liver cancer
Most of the times liver cancer does not show signs and symptoms in the initial stage and as cancer begins to grow symptoms gradually show up. To detect liver cancer at early stage doctors often recommend screening and examination of the liver (at least once a year) to avoid the risk of cancer. Sign and symptoms of liver cancer include-
- Back or shoulder pain
- Loss of appetite
- Sudden weight loss
- Jaundice-yellow or discolouration of the skin
- Chalky or white stools
- Feeling full after eating a small amount of food
- Fluid buildup or swelling in the abdomen
- Enlargement of spleen or liver, at times both
- A swollen vein that can lead to bruise or bleeding in the skin
- Low blood sugar levels
- High cholesterol level
Causes of Liver cancer
DNA mutation (cells start to multiply at a huge ratio and develop a change in their composition) is the prime cause of liver cancer. When cells begin to grow out of proportion, it develops to a tumour (a mass of cancerous or noncancerous cells). Birth defects, excessive consumption of alcohol or chronic infection from diseases like hemochromatosis (a condition that arises when there is the presence of too much of iron in the liver), hepatitis B and C. Cirrhosis can also lead to primary liver cancer.
Stages of Liver cancer
The stages of liver cancer are as follows-
Stage 1: Presence of tumour in the liver, at this stage the cancer cells do not attack any other organ or body part
Stage 2: Cancer cells multiply and produce several other tumours, they may thrive inside the liver or one of the tumours may reach the blood vessel
Stage 3: At this stage, large tumours start to develop, which begins to attack the large blood vessel
Stage 4: In the fourth stage the cancer is said to have metastasized which means that it has spread to other body parts.
The treatment for each stage of cancer differs and only after proper diagnoses the doctor starts to offer treatment as per the stage. Don’t delay treatment if you’re experiencing any such signs and symptoms of liver cancer that have been mentioned above.
Risk factors of Liver cancer
The risk factors of liver cancer include-
- Sex-Women has lesser chances of developing a Hepatocellular carcinoma than men
- Race-liver cancer is common among Asians Americans
- Rare diseases like Wilson disease and alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency
- Diseases that disrupts the normal metabolism of the body
- Excess consumption of alcohol and smoking. A cirrhosis condition can worsen id alcohol is consumed regularly
- Fatty liver disease
- Use of anabolic steroid use- mostly used by athletes to boost their muscles
Prevention of Liver cancer
It has been found out that 80% of the liver cancers (primary) are caused by infection caused by hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus. This virus can spread through unprotected sex or sharing unsterilized needles. Liver cancer can be prevented by practising healthy habits like exercising regularly, maintaining body weight, following a healthy diet and limiting the consumption of alcohol and smoking. Vaccine for hepatitis B is available for both children and adults to visit the doctor if you feel that you are at risk. Some of the precautions that can be taken to prevent liver cancer-
- Involve in safe sex
- Moderate alcohol consumption
- Never use anabolic steroids until recommended by the doctor
- Take iron supplements only when medically necessary
- Get immunized (vaccination)
How Liver cancer is treated?
Based on the stage of the liver cancer the treatment is carried forward. Before the treatment, the doctor recommends a few test and procedures that help to diagnose the extend liver cancer has developed or spread. The test and procedures includes-
The blood test helps to determine the abnormalities in the functioning of the liver.
Sample testing of liver tissue
For some patients, the doctor extracts a piece of the liver tissue (to examine the presence of cancer-causing cells) for laboratory testing to study the case precisely
Imaging test like CT, MRI and ultrasound may be recommended by the doctor.
Once the doctor detects the stage of liver cancer-size and the location of the liver cancer or whether it has spread to other parts of the body.
Treatment of liver cancer involves-
One of the effective ways to treat liver cancer is by surgical method or a liver transplant; if all the cancer cells can be removed by surgery then it can cure it in most cases.
This treatment helps to destroy the liver tumours without removing them. Ablation is effective for patients who carry small tumours or a person who is not fit enough to undergo surgery. It is used for tumours which are not larger than 3 cm.
Embolization therapy injects substances directly into an artery in the liver to reduce the flow of the blood to the tumour that is present in the liver
This therapy as the name suggests uses high energy rays to kill the cancer cells. People already suffering from diseases such as hepatitis or cirrhosis should not opt for radiation therapy as it might not be good for health.
This treatment method uses medicines that assist a person’s immune system to find and destroy the cancer cells
Chemotherapy is a procedure that uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. This kind of treatment can be optional, mainly used for patients who can’t undergo surgery or is not responsive to local therapies (ablation or embolization)
The survival rate of Liver cancer
As mentioned there are several methods and treatments to cure liver cancer. It has been estimated that for patients who have been diagnosed at an early stage has a 44% survival rate (5 years survival rate). It the cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body (tissues or organs) the 5-year survival rate is known to be 11% and if cancer has attacked distant part of the body than the survival rate is 2% in 5 years.
Que 1. Does liver cancer spread quickly?
Ans – At a stage when liver cancer metastasizes it mostly spreads to the lungs and bones. There is an 11% chance of a 5-year survival rate for a patient whose liver cancer has spread to adjacent organs, tissues and lymph nodes.
Que 2. Is liver cancer a death sentence?
Ans – Medical science has improved over the years and deadly disease like cancer can be cured if detected at an early stage. The sad news is that liver cancer doesn’t show any signs and symptoms unless it reaches a more advanced stage. Therefore regular screening is important to detect it at an early stage (if present).
Que 3. What is the life expectancy with liver failure?
Ans – A patient is most likely to survive for 6 to 12 years if he/she is suffering from compensated cirrhosis. When decompensation starts to occur in 5 to 7% annually, the median survival rate declines to 2 years.
Que 4. Can you live without a liver?
Ans – No, you can’t survive without the presence of a liver completely. One can surely survive with one liver. Also, it has been observed that the liver can grow back to full size within a matter of months.
Que 5. What should you eat if you have liver cancer?
Ans – Focus to eat things that can help to boost your immune system and help in the process of healing. Add proteins like fish, eggs, chicken, low-fat dairy products, nuts and soy. You can also include whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice and whole-grain pasta to your diet.
Que 6. What types of food can hurt the liver?
Ans – Including too much of salt to food, consuming excess alcohol, high fatty and oily food, red meat, extra sugar and white bread can affect the overall health of the liver. Try to avoid them as much as possible.
Que 7. Is drinking water good for your liver?
Ans – Water is very important for liver health. Drinking adequate amount of water helps to hydrate our bodies and keeps away conditions such as constipation. Water helps to flush out the toxins out of the body; the liver cannot remove such toxins from the body. Therefore drink enough water and stay healthy.
Que 8. Can stress affect the liver?
Ans – Yes, stress is known to contribute to and increase the risk of liver disease death. People suffering from anxiety and depression carry high chances of getting a liver disease
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