Liver Cancer or Hepatic Cancer: Classification & Types, Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, Signs, Investigations, Treatment, Prevention
Cancer which originates in the cells of the liver is known as liver cancer. One of the most common types of cancer is liver cancer; however, liver cancer is uncommon in the United States, but the prevalence of it is increasing day by day. Cancer which originates in another area of the body (colon, lung or breast) and spreads to the liver is known as metastatic cancer, not liver cancer. This type of metastatic cancer is named after the organ in which it originates such as metastatic lung cancer for cancer that starts in the lungs and spreads to the liver. Treatment for primary liver cancer depends on the stage of the cancer along with patient's age, general health and personal preferences. The aim of treatment is to remove the cancer completely. If that isn't possible, then the focus is on stopping the progression or spreading of the tumor. In certain cases, the aim of treatment is relieving the symptoms and making the patient as comfortable as possible.
Classification and Types of Liver Cancer or Hepatic Cancer
Cancer which begins in the liver cells is primary liver cancer. It is of 2 different types depending on the type of cells which have become cancerous.
- Hepatocellular Carcinoma: This type is the most common type of primary liver cancer. It begins in the hepatocytes, which are the main type of liver cells.
- Cholangiocarcinoma: This type of cancer is also known as bile duct cancer, as it starts in the bile ducts of the liver.
- Hepatoblastoma: This type of liver cancer commonly occurs in infants and young children.
- Angiosarcoma/Hemangiosarcoma: These types of cancers start in the blood vessels of the liver and have a very rapid growth.
Causes and Risk Factors of Liver Cancer or Hepatic Cancer
The cause of liver cancer is not clear; however, in some cases, the cause can be found out, e.g. certain hepatitis viruses with chronic infection may cause cancer of the liver. When the liver cells develop changes or mutations in their DNA, it causes liver cancer. This is the substance which is responsible for giving direction for all the chemical processes in the body. These DNA mutations results in changes in these directions such as causing the cells to grow out of control and form a tumor.
Risk Factors for Primary Liver Cancer or Hepatic Cancer
- Gender: Men are at a higher risk for developing liver cancer than women.
- Age: In certain places, such as North America, Europe and Australia, older adults are commonly affected by liver cancer. In other developing countries, such as Asia and Africa, younger people aged between 20 and 50 are more affected by liver cancer.
- Chronic Infection with HBV or HCV: Individuals suffering from these infections are at a higher risk for liver cancer.
- Cirrhosis increases the chances of developing liver cancer.
- Certain Inherited Liver Diseases such as hemochromatosis and Wilson's disease increases the chances of developing liver cancer.
- Diabetes increases the chances of developing liver cancer.
- Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease increases the risk of liver cancer.
- Exposure to Aflatoxins: Consumption of foods which are contaminated with aflatoxins producing fungi greatly increases the risk for developing liver cancer.
- Excessive Alcohol Consumption leads to irreversible liver damage and increases the risk of liver cancer.
- Obesity increases the risk of liver cancer.
Signs and Symptoms of Liver Cancer or Hepatic Cancer
- Unintentional weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Pain in the upper abdomen
- Generalized weakness
- Swelling in the abdomen
- Liver enlargement
- Presence of jaundice
- White, chalky stools.
Investigations for Liver Cancer or Hepatic Cancer
- Blood tests help in finding out abnormalities in the liver function.
- Imaging tests such as ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
- Liver biopsy.
- Staging tests such as CT, MRI, chest X-ray and bone scan helps in determining the extent, size and location of cancer.
Treatment for Liver Cancer or Hepatic Cancer
Treatment for primary liver cancer depends on the stage of the cancer along with patient's age, general health and personal preferences. The aim of treatment is to remove the cancer completely. If that isn't possible, then the focus is on stopping the progression or spreading of the tumor. In certain cases, the aim of treatment is relieving the symptoms and making the patient as comfortable as possible.
Liver Cancer Treatment Options Include
- Surgery: If the tumor is small and there is good liver function, then removing a portion of the liver, such as partial hepatectomy, to remove the liver cancer along with a small portion of surrounding healthy tissue can be done.
- Liver Transplant Surgery can be done where the diseased liver is removed and replaced with a healthy liver from a donor. Liver transplant surgery can be done for patients having early-stage liver cancer.
- Cryoablation can be done where the cancer cells are frozen using extreme cold to kill cancer cells.
- Radiofrequency Ablation is a procedure where heat and electric current is used to destroy the cancer cells.
- Alcohol Injection can be given where pure alcohol is injected directly into the tumor either through the skin or during an operation causing destruction of the tumor cells.
- Chemoembolization is a type of chemotherapy treatment where strong chemotherapy drugs are injected directly into the liver.
- Radiation Therapy involves the use of high-powered energy beams to destroy cancer cells and shrink the tumors. Side effects of radiation include fatigue, nausea and vomiting.
- Targeted Drug Therapy involves the use of targeted drugs such as Sorafenib (Nexavar) which disrupts the tumor's ability to generate new blood vessels. Sorafenib helps in slowing or stopping the progression of advanced hepatocellular carcinoma; however, further studies are required to understand this and the use of other targeted therapies for cancer.
Prevention of Liver Cancer or Hepatic Cancer
The Risk Of Cirrhosis Can Be Reduced By:
- Drinking alcohol in moderation.
- Losing the excess weight and maintaining a healthy weight.
- Exercising caution when working with chemicals.
- Getting hepatitis B vaccination.
- Abstaining from unprotected sex.
- Avoiding the use of intravenous (IV) drugs.
- Avoid getting a tattoo or piercing done. Make sure that the needles are properly sterilized if you want to get one.
- Getting liver cancer screening regularly.