The cancer that originates in the liver cells or the hepatocytes is termed as liver cancer. It is a very complicated disease, and is rarely detected in the early stage. Find out more about the causes, symptoms, and the treatments of this cancer, through this HealthHearty article.
Liver cancer, also known as the primary liver cancer, is a cancer that develops in the liver cells and tissues. The liver can be divided into two lobes – the right and the left lobe. The liver is placed below the lung, just under the ribcage. The liver cells are known as hepatocytes, and they account for almost 80% of the liver tissues. In general, the cancer originates in these hepatocytes, and therefore, this cancer is also known as hepatocellular cancer or hepatoma. But sometimes, the cancer can also originate in the bile ducts and the blood vessels present in this organ.
Types of Liver Cancer
This cancer can be of different types, such as hepatocellular carcinomas, hepatoblastomas, cholangiocarcinomas, angiosarcomas, and hemangiosarcomas.
Hepatocellular Carcinoma: This is the most common type of liver cancer, and it develops in the liver cells (hepatocytes).
Hepatoblastoma: Here, the majority of the cancerous tumors develop in the right lobe of the liver. This cancer is more prevalent among children.
Cholangiocarcinomas: This type of cancer originates in the bile ducts of the liver, which are responsible for transporting bile to the gallbladder.
Angiosarcomas and hemangiosarcomas: These two types of cancer develop in the blood vessels, and are characterized by the rapid growth of the cancerous cells.
Secondary liver cancer: Sometimes, the cancer that originates in other parts of the body can spread to the liver. This is known as secondary liver cancer.
Causes of Liver Cancer
One of the most important risk factors for this cancer is hepatitis B. Among the patients of hepatitis B, men who have hepatitis B cirrhosis are more likely to develop the cancer of the liver. On the basis of several studies, it has been suspected that the specific genome of the hepatitis B virus gets inserted into the genetic material of the liver cells, which makes them cancerous.
Sometimes, an infection caused by the hepatitis C virus can also cause this cancer. The hepatitis C virus causes liver cirrhosis (damage of the liver cells and their replacement with scar tissues), which can eventually cause cancer. The excessive consumption of alcohol can also cause liver cirrhosis, and increase the risk of developing liver cancer.
In addition to these, the female hormone estrogen and steroids can stimulate the development of hepatic adenomas, which are generally non-cancerous. But they can become malignant at times, and cause cancer. Hereditary hemochromatosis (excessive accumulation of iron in the body) can also be associated with this cancer, as it causes liver cirrhosis.
Symptoms of Liver Cancer
The most common symptom of this cancer is abdominal pain. In patients of liver cirrhosis, the cancer can produce symptoms like sudden unexplained weight loss, jaundice, deposition of abdominal fluid and the resultant swelling, weakness, fatigue, and bloating.
Diagnosis and Treatment
This cancer is quite difficult to diagnose. There is no accurate blood test to detect the disease. The most commonly used blood test is alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) test, where the level of alpha-fetoprotein (a protein mainly manufactured by the immature liver cells of the fetus) is checked. The level of this protein is usually high in infants, but then gradually decreases with age.
A high level of alpha-fetoprotein in adults can be an indicator of liver cancer. However, the level of this protein can be naturally high in pregnant women. Along with this blood test, physicians can take the help of ultrasound, CT scan, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for a confirmed diagnosis.
The treatment of this cancer depends on the stage in which it is detected. For a small solitary tumor, liver transplantation is performed, or the tumor is removed surgically. Chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, and radiosurgery are some other treatment options for this cancer.
Early detection plays an important role in the proper treatment of this cancer. So, people having an increased risk of developing this cancer should remain vigilant. Moreover, some risk factors like excessive alcohol consumption, can be controlled to reduce the risk of developing this cancer.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.