Suddenly getting diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer can be a major cause of concern for anybody. This article explains what is the life expectancy of patients diagnosed with advanced liver cancer. Read on, to know the symptoms and prognosis of the cancer….
Liver cancer is described as a ‘silent killer’; as it is usually detected in later stages. Liver cancer can be of two types; primary liver cancer or secondary liver cancer. In primary liver cancer, the cancerous cells/tumor has formed in the liver tissues, however, this form is rare. Secondary liver cancer, on the other hand is cancer of some other organ in the body, which has now spread to the liver.
Cancer is divided into stages I, II, III and IV, depending on the extent of their spread. Stages of liver cancer are determined with the help of the information on the number and size of primary tumor(s), the extent of spread to nearby (regional) lymph nodes and nearby as well as distant organs. Doctors can get an exact idea about the prognosis with the help of the staging system and they can determine the most appropriate treatment accordingly. Stage one is the phase when the cancerous outgrowth is very small and confined to liver. If the cancer is detected during this stage, it is possible to remove it surgically.
However, stage 4 liver cancer is considered as advanced stage of liver cancer. At this stage a large amount of damage has been already caused to the liver, and other organs. Liver cancer is said to be in ‘stage 4’ when the cancer moves out of the liver and spreads to different parts of the body like blood vessels, lymph nodes, lungs, etc. It is then termed as end stage liver cancer. CT scan, X rays, MRI, bone scan, etc., help determine the stage.
Increased Risk of Liver Cancer
Some risk factors, like a person’s age, gender, family history, ethnicity cannot be changed, while some factors, like smoking can be controlled. Obesity, diabetes, certain types of liver diseases, like repeated infections of hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV), liver cirrhosis, alcohol abuse, long-term use of anabolic steroids, drinking water containing arsenic, long-term exposure to aflatoxins, etc. can increase the risk of liver cancer. According to the statistics published by the National Cancer Institute, liver cancer attacked 22,000 Americans in the year 2010.
The saddest part about liver cancer is that it has no symptoms in the initial stages. During the initial stages, when the tumor is very small, no symptoms are exhibited by the body. Symptoms like digestion problems, mild fever, low energy levels, loss of appetite, etc., are generally ignored. As the tumor grows and enters into the advanced stage, some symptoms are noticed by the person.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Severe fatigue
- High fever
- Unexplained weight loss
- Pain in the bones
- Decreased lung capacity
- Abdominal swelling
- Pain in the right side of the abdomen
Loss of normal liver function can result in hepatic encephalopathy. Due to buildup of toxins and waste materials in the body, the person may suffer from confusion, memory loss, drastic changes in personality, increased irritation, sleep disturbances, inability to concentrate, kidney failure, collapsed lungs, and coma.
Liver cirrhosis (scarring of liver tissue) will lead to loss of liver function, internal bleeding, enlarged spleen, low platelet count, etc. Moreover, the buildup of bilirubin in the blood, due to improper functioning of the liver, causes jaundice. The symptoms of jaundice are yellow skin, yellow eyes, strong smelling amber-colored urine, pale stools, loss of appetite and weakness.
Unfortunately, there is no treatment for the final stage of liver cancer. Liver transplant or hepatectomy is not an option, because the cancer has spread to other organs of the body. The cancer usually invades lungs, bones, kidneys, pancreas, blood vessels, lymph nodes, etc.
Pain killers are administered to relieve the pain. Primary liver cancer patients may take part in a clinical trial. They may register their names for a clinical trial of biologic therapy, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy with or without radiosensitizers. These treatments may or may not improve the quality of life; but reports of clinical trials are definitely helpful for further research. As the disease cannot be cured at this stage, palliative therapy is the only option left. Doctors try to improve the quality of the patient’s life by controlling pain and other problems caused by the disease. It also involves improving emotional health of the patient.
According to the experts, alternate therapies sometimes work great for cancer when combined with the conventional treatment. Following a healthy and balanced diet, incorporating fresh fruit, veggies, whole grains, lean meats, fish, turkey, and chicken is essential to maintain the strength of the immune system. Following a low sugar, low salt diet helps prevent worsening of the condition. Highly processed food and junk food should be strictly avoided. Following a stress-free lifestyle is essential to maintain strong body and mind. Meditation, prayers work in mysterious ways!
Simple home remedies like consumption of wheat-grass juice or Maitake mushroom extract in liquid form help strengthen the immune system and can boost energy levels. The patient and family members should never lose hope. Strong mind, faith in God, strong will power to fight cancer, perfect attitude play an important role in cancer treatment.
Prognosis and Life Expectancy
During the fourth stage, liver cancer is beyond control. Liver cancer prognosis refers to the likely outcome of the diagnosed cancer. Usually stage 4 liver cancer life expectancy is of only about 6 months, however, some are found to live longer.
Patients should not lose hope as every case is a unique one. The growth rate of the cancer varies from patient to patient. The prognosis depends upon age, sex, overall physical and mental condition of the patient, hereditary factors, and how the patient responds to the treatment. Love and family support play an important role in uplifting the spirit of the patient.
As mentioned above, life expectancy for liver cancer will vary according to the overall physical and mental state of the patient. According to the available statistics, around 22% liver cancer cases are diagnosed when the cancer has reached an advanced stage. Therefore, liver cancer survival rate is very poor. The survival rate for liver cancer in fourth stage is around 3.5% which means about 3-4 patients out of 100 patients diagnosed with ‘liver cancer – stage 4’ survive for five years.
Remember, you cannot predict the lifespan of a cancer patient, with the help of available statistics. These statistics are based on the observations noted down after studying some groups of people diagnosed with the disease. Every patient diagnosed with cancer is unique. The aforementioned figures should strictly be used as guidelines only.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.