According to The American Cancer Society’s most recent estimates, about 29,000 new cases of primary liver cancer will be diagnosed in 2012. Read on, to know about liver cancer prognosis which informs you on the advancement of cancer and the course of the treatment.
Primary liver cancer is the cancer that develops in the tissues of the liver itself. Most of the time, as the cancer originated in another part of the body like colon, lung or breast gets metastasized, it spreads into the liver. This type of cancer is called secondary liver cancer and the prognosis for this cancer is very poor. Cancer prognosis depends upon various factors such as age, genetics, type of treatment received, stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis and overall health of the patient. Strong positive attitude of the patient makes a lot of difference. The treatment and the survival rate for liver cancer vary according to the stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis.
Liver biopsy helps detect the growth of cancer cells in the liver and it also helps check whether the cancer is primary or secondary. Mostly no signs and symptoms are noticed in the early stages of primary liver cancer. Loss of appetite, weight loss, upper abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, weakness, fatigue, enlarged liver, abdominal swelling, yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice) are some of the symptoms which may be noticed in some cases. Blood tests, CT scan and MRI tests along with liver biopsy can help confirm the diagnosis of liver cancer. CT scan, MRI, chest X-ray and bone scan help determine the size and location of the cancer and whether it has spread. Primary liver cancer stages play an important role in determining liver cancer prognosis.
- Stage 1: At this stage, a single tumor confined to the liver is foud. The goal of the treatment would be to eliminate the cancer completely.
- Stage 2: The single cancerous tumor grows and penetrates into the nearby blood vessels. Stage 2 liver cancer can also be in the form of multiple small tumors in the liver. The focus of the treatment may be on eliminating the cancer but if that is not possible, then preventing the tumor from growing or spreading would be attempted.
- Stage 3: At this stage, several larger tumors, spread beyond the primary site are noticed. Sometimes, it can be one large tumor that has grown to invade the liver’s main veins or nearby structures like gallbladder. Treatment is designed to stop the further growth of the cancer if complete elimination is not possible.
- Stage 4: This is known as metastasized liver cancer. The cancer destroys the function of the liver completely and it spreads beyond the liver, to the distant parts of the body. Here, only comfort care can be expected as removal or slowing down the growth of the cancer is not possible. The goal of the treatment should be to help relieve the symptoms like pain, and making the patient as comfortable as possible. Prognosis of metastatic liver cancer is often very poor.
Prognosis refers to the medical opinion about the likely course and the outcome of the cancer diagnosed. Whether the patient will recover or have a recurrence, can be guessed with the help of the prognosis. In some patients, cancer grows fast, while in some patients, a very slow growth can be noticed. Every cancer case is unique and you can not make a prediction about the life span of a cancer patient, with the help of available statistics. How the patient responds to the treatment may influence the prognosis of the disease. Researchers collect information from cancer patients over many years. Latest and modern treatments are not available everywhere. The statistics are based on groups of people belonging to similar situations. Liver cancer prognosis is just a prediction and nobody can say with certainty what the outcome will be in an individual case. It is obvious that the prognosis is poor when the cancer is at an advanced stage. For small tumors that are confined to the liver, ablative therapies are palliative and surgical resection or liver transplantation is sometimes curative.
The statistics refer to the percentage of people who are alive five years after the diagnosis of liver cancer. The survival rates are often low since in most of the cases, liver cancer is diagnosed very late. Liver transplant is not a viable option in developing countries and only 30% of liver cancers are diagnosed when surgery can be a possible treatment option.
In general, worldwide relative liver cancer survival rates indicate that only 7% of liver cancer patients will be alive 5 years after diagnosis. If surgery is a possible option to remove the cancer, 75% will survive for 1 year, 50% for 3 years and 30% for 5 years.
It can be easily noticed that liver cancer survival rates are highest with a liver transplant. They are as high as 75% for 5 years. However, liver transplant can offer higher survival rate only when the transplant is done in the early stage of cancer. Liver transplant is not recommended at a metastatic stage of cancer because sooner or later the cancer will spread from the other organs to the new liver. Same is the case with surgical resection. It is successful when tumors are localized and in such cases, it can increase the life expectancy of the patient. For a liver cancer patient, it is advisable to consult the physician, and not to consider these statistics for guessing the life expectancy.