Liver is one of the most vital organs in the body, and any abnormality of this organ has to be diagnosed and treated at the earliest. Liver lesion is a term used to denote certain abnormal growths in the organ. Such abnormalities can be caused by various reasons, and may or may not be manifested with symptoms. Though liver lesions are mostly benign, malignant ones are not uncommon.
What are Liver Lesions?
Liver lesions include abnormalities like tumors, cysts, nodules, hemangioma, abscess, etc. Focal liver lesions denote conditions that are confined to a particular area, with clear boundaries. Those without any clear boundaries are called diffuse liver lesions. Malignant liver lesions include hepatocellular carcinomas (primary malignancy of the liver), cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer), and metastases (spread from primary cancer of other organs, like the colon).
In some cases, benign lesions may turn malignant at a later stage. It has been observed that most of the liver lesions are benign. Though these benign masses are mostly asymptomatic, right diagnosis is very much important to confirm that the condition is benign and harmless, and treatment is not required.
Benign lesions can be solid or fluid-filled. Solid ones include adenoma, hemangioma, nodular regenerative hyperplasia, focal nodular hyperplasia, etc.; fluid-filled or cystic masses include simple liver cysts, bile duct cysts, polycystic liver disease, hydatid cysts, amoebic abscess, etc. While some of these cysts are non-infectious, infectious ones like hydatid cysts and amoebic abscess are also not uncommon. Even fatty liver and liver cirrhosis may cause diffuse liver lesions.
Benign Liver Lesions: While simple cysts are often found as fluid-filled cavities, polycystic liver disease is characterized by numerous cysts of various shapes and sizes, scattered throughout the organ. Both the conditions may not cause any symptom. However, some people with such liver cysts may develop abdominal discomfort, pain, and fullness. Mostly found in small kids, choledocal cysts develop in the bile duct, and are found to be congenital. Such cysts may cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and pain beneath the ribs.
Those with infectious liver cysts may develop symptoms like loss of appetite, abdominal pain and fullness, nausea, fever, chills, and vomiting. The symptoms may vary with the type of cyst, severity of the condition, and the health condition of the affected person. Severe symptoms may also indicate rupture of liver cysts.
Hepatic hemangioma is often found as sponge-like structures that are filled with blood. Hepatic adenomas are tumors that form in the liver, as a result of excessive growth of epithelial cells. Hemangiomas and adenomas are usually asymptomatic, but some may experience pain in the upper right side of the abdomen, abdominal fullness, nausea, and vomiting. A palpable mass can be noticed in those with a larger growth, which may also cause symptoms like enlarged liver and bleeding.
Even though benign during the early stages, hepatic adenoma may turn malignant. It is mainly seen in women and is linked with use of oral contraceptives. Symptoms are rare in focal nodular hyperplasia, but a constant, dull ache in the upper right quadrant may develop in some people. Some may develop such pain while doing strenuous physical activities.
Malignant Liver Lesions: Symptoms include bloating, swollen abdomen, abdominal fullness and heaviness, a lump in the abdomen, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, weakness, weight loss, jaundice, etc. Another common symptom is abdominal pain that may radiate to the back and shoulders.
In general, the symptoms of liver lesions include pain (mainly caused by pressure exerted by the abnormal growth), nausea or vomiting (due to blockage of bile), fullness of the abdomen, jaundice, and bleeding. In short, some of these lesions may interfere with the normal liver function.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Most of the liver lesions are found to be benign in nature, but malignancy is a cause of concern. Apart from liver cancer lesions, some benign conditions may turn malignant at a later stage. So, proper diagnosis is very important. Diagnosis is mainly done with three types of imaging techniques - ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Different types of liver lesions are characterized by different morphological structures. Such structures can be differentiated with the help of these diagnostic tools. MRI is preferred to other techniques. Treatment is decided on the basis of the underlying cause. In some patients, the lesions are removed, while others do not require any treatment. Liver resection (removal of a part) is done in some people. In case of simple cysts, marsupialization may be done, so as to drain the contents. If the condition is diagnosed as cancer, treatment will be decided accordingly.
To summarize, most of the liver lesions are benign, and studies show that only less than 10% of them are found to be cancerous. However, consult your physician, if you experience symptoms related to liver abnormalities, so that the underlying condition can be diagnosed and treated at the earliest.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.