What are the most common signs of liver cancer? Scroll down to find information on the causes, symptoms and treatment of this liver disease.
The liver is a glandular organ located beneath the diaphragm, in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. It performs various tasks that are vital for the healthy functioning of the human body. These include secretion of bile and metabolism of fats and carbohydrates. The liver also helps in the synthesis of certain proteins. One of the vital functions performed by the liver is detoxification of the body. Alcohol abuse, unhealthy eating habits and other poor lifestyle choices one makes could put one at an increased risk of developing a liver disease. The liver function can get adversely affected due to various medical conditions.
Liver cancer, which is also known as hepatic cancer, is one of the deadliest diseases that can affect the liver. The liver is made of various types of cells and tissues. Hepatocytes are liver cells that constitute about 80% of the liver tissue. One is said to suffer from hepatocellular carcinoma or primary hepatic cancer when an abnormal and uncontrollable cell division or mutations in hepatocytes causes a malignant growth in the liver. When the cancer doesn’t originate in the liver and spreads to the liver from the surrounding organs, one is diagnosed with secondary or metastatic hepatic cancer. The signs of liver cancer are generally not present in the early stages. Most of the time, the symptoms of this disease become evident only after the cancer reaches an advanced stage.
The exact causes of hepatocellular carcinoma have not been identified yet, but medical research has revealed certain risk factors for this disease. Liver cirrhosis, which is a medical condition that is characterized by scarring of the liver tissue, is one of the most common risk factors. Excessive consumption of alcohol for a prolonged period of time is one of the most common causes of this disease. In fact, alcohol abuse is one of the most common contributory factors for poor liver function. A malignant tumor could develop when an alcoholic with severe liver cirrhosis quits alcohol. Mutations in the liver cells could occur when the liver cells regenerate to undo the damage caused by excessive consumption of alcohol.
Chronic liver infections such as hepatitis B and C might also increase the risk. Exposure to aflatoxin B1, which is a carcinogen found on a mold called Aspergillus flavus, might also make one susceptible to this liver disease. The use of anabolic steroids and certain drugs for a prolonged period of time could also be a contributory factor. Genetic disposition or family history might also play a role. Medical conditions such as hereditary hemochromatosis (accumulation of iron in the tissues), fatty liver disease (accumulation of fat in the liver), sclerosing cholangitis (inflammation and scarring of bile ducts inside and outside the liver) and autoimmune hepatitis (inflammation of the liver due to an autoimmune response) might also put one at an increased risk of developing cancerous growth in the liver.
As mentioned earlier, the signs of this disease might not be very conspicuous during the early stages. The signs of this disease might also be variable. The early signs might include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue or loss of appetite. Children can also get affected by this disease. An early onset of puberty is one of the most common symptoms of hepatic cancer in boys. Since early symptoms might seem very similar to the symptoms of an upset stomach, people often ignore them. This is the reason behind the delay in the detection of this serious disease. Unfortunately, a majority of affected individuals seek medical help only when the other complications start developing.
Given below are the signs that are experienced in advance stages of hepatic cancer.
- Severe right-sided abdominal pain: Since the liver is located on the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, one may experience pain in this region.
- Jaundice: This medical condition is characterized by the yellowing of the skin and the sclerae (whites of the eyes). The yellowish pigmentation is caused by elevated levels of bilirubin in blood. Bilirubin is the yellow pigment that is present in bile.
- Ascites: This medical condition is characterized by accumulation of fluid in the space between the two layers of the peritoneum.
- Hepatomegaly: This medical condition is characterized by the enlargement of the liver.
- Localized swelling in the abdomen
- A feeling of fullness
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
Since the symptoms of the cancer of the liver generally appear at a later stage, it is often referred to as a ‘silent disease’. If one is experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, one must seek medical help. Doctors generally order blood tests and other imaging procedures such as a liver ultrasound, CT scan, MRI or a liver biopsy to formulate a diagnosis. If diagnosed at an early stage, the spread of the cancer might be less and surgery can be employed to remove the malignant growth. Other treatment options involve chemotherapy, cryotherapy, radiofrequency ablation and radiation therapy. In severe cases, liver transplant might be recommended.
The treatment basically depends on the age and overall health of the patient. Factors that affect the life expectancy include the type of cancer one is suffering from and the stage of cancer. If detected early, treatment can be administered for slowing down the progression of the disease, thereby prolonging the lifespan of the patient. It is therefore important that the signs and symptoms of this liver disease are not ignored. A proper evaluation of the symptoms with the help of diagnostic tests will surely give the patient a chance of living the rest of his/her life in a better way.
Since the signs of this liver disease are not very conspicuous at the onset of this disease, the chances of a delayed diagnosis are very high. It is important that people refrain from indulging in excessive consumption of alcohol or any other activity that might make one susceptible to this fatal disease.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.