Introduction to Liver Cancer
There are two classifications of liver cancer, primary or secondary. Primary liver cancer means the cancer originated in the liver, secondary liver cancer means the cancer originated somewhere else.
What is Liver Cancer?
There are two classifications of liver cancer, primary or secondary. Primary liver cancer means the cancer originated (started) in the liver, secondary (metastatic) liver cancer means the cancer originated somewhere else in the body. Primary liver cancer is relatively uncommon in the UK. Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common type of liver cancer, occurring in approximately 90% of cases. This cancer originates from hepatocytes (liver cells). Other types of liver cancer originate from cells in the bile duct (cholangiocarcinoma) and blood vessels within the liver (angiosarcoma).
What causes Liver Cancer?
A tumour starts from one abnormal cell. It is thought that damages in the genetics of the cell can make the cell abnormally multiply out of control. Some risk factors make it more like for liver cells to become cancerous. These include: cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), hepatitis B or C infection, ingesting poisons or toxins, smoking and conditions causing persistent inflammation of the gut.
What are the symptoms of Liver Cancer?
There are often no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When the cancer increases in size, symptoms are often quite vague and include: feeling sick, loss of appetite, tiredness and weight loss. As the cancer continues to grow you can get more specific symptoms including: tummy pain, yellowing of the skin (jaundice), itchiness and swelling of the abdomen (ascites).
How is Liver Cancer treated?
Those at high risk of liver cancer are usually screened using ultrasound and a blood test at 6 to 12 monthly intervals. If liver cancer is suspected then a range of tests are usually needed. These include: an ultrasound/ CT/ MRI scan, a liver biopsy and a blood test.
The main treatment for liver cancer usually involves surgery followed by chemotherapy. Various factors such as site and size of tumour determine exact treatment regimen, In some cases, treatment aims to cure the liver cancer, in some cases the treatment aims to slow the growth of the cancer and in some cases the treatment aims to ease symptoms (palliative care).
Overall the outlook is relatively poor. The best chance of survival is when the cancer is small and has not spread. In these cases surgery can remove the cancer completely.