BodyHealth

Understanding Liver Cancer. How It is Diagnosed and 6 Methods To Prevent.

Liver cancer causes, symptoms and available methods to treat cancer.

O, your liver is a magnificent organ. It aids in the breakdown of drugs and pollutants. It is also in charge of the production of bile, a digestive fluid that aids in the digestion of fats, vitamins, and other nutrients. This fundamental organ also stores nutrients such as glucose, allowing you to remain nourished even when you aren’t actively eating.

Several different sorts of disorders can have an impact on the liver. Cancer is one of these diseases. Because it is responsible for filtering all of the blood in the body, the liver is highly vulnerable to cancer cells that migrate through the circulation. When cancer develops in the liver, it damages liver cells and impairs its capacity to perform its regular functions. It is a severe condition.

Each year, around 24,500 men and 10,000 women are diagnosed with liver cancer in the United States, and approximately 18,600 men and 9,000 women die from the condition.

To better understand what cancer is, how can you save yourself from having it? Follow HERE.

LIVER CANCER TYPES.

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, 42,230 Americans were diagnosed with liver cancer in 2021.

Primary liver cancer can begin as a single lump growing in the liver or begins in multiple locations throughout the liver simultaneously. When cancer that began in another part of the body spreads to the liver, this is referred to as secondary or metastatic liver cancer. The site of origin (can be any organ/place). It is more frequent for cancer to spread to the liver than for cancer to begin in the liver cells. According to a 2016 study published in SAGE Journals, secondary liver cancers are more prevalent than primary liver tumors.

Individuals who have suffered considerable liver damage are much more susceptible to having cancer. A colon or colorectal cancer causes the majority of liver metastases. Primary liver cancer is classified into the following subtypes:

  • Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC), alternatively referred to as hepatoma, is the most frequent liver cancer, accounting for approximately 75% of liver malignancies. These cells, which make up most of the liver’s cells, become afflicted with this illness. It can spread from the liver to other organs in the body, including the pancreas, intestines, and stomach. The majority of cases of HCC are caused by infection with hepatitis B or C or by alcohol-induced liver cirrhosis, read more about them here. 
  • Cholangiocarcinoma. Cholangiocarcinoma, also known as bile duct cancer, is a type of cancer that develops in the tiny, tube-like bile ducts that run through the liver. These ducts transport bile from the liver to the gallbladder helping in the digestion of food.  Cholangiocarcinoma accounts for 10-20% of all cancers of the liver. The ACS estimates that 8,000 Americans are diagnosed with bile duct cancer each year.
  • Liver Angiosarcoma. Angiosarcoma, alternatively referred to as hemangiosarcoma, accounts for around 1% of liver malignancies. According to National Cancer Institute, Angiosarcoma affects roughly one in a million Americans each year. Angiosarcomas develop rapidly in the liver’s blood vessels. They are usually detected late when cancer has spread.

As with other types of cancer, carcinoma of the liver can spread in three ways.

Through Tissue Cancer cells migrate from the primary liver tumor and create secondary cancers in adjacent tissues.
The Lymphatics Cancer cells can be transferred to other body parts via the lymph system, invading neighboring lymph nodes.
Through Circulation.  Cancer cells can enter the bloodstream and are carried throughout the body via the blood. They can develop different tumors anywhere along the route, spreading and growing.

Cells in our bodies grow and divide in a controlled way. To replace old cells that die, new cells are made. But the DNA damage sometimes causes cells to grow in the wrong way. Cancer cells do not follow the replacement rules. Part of what makes them different is that they keep making new abnormal and uncontrolled cells even though old ones aren’t dying off. A tumor is formed when abnormal cells multiply uncontrollably. Additionally, they can cause metastasis (spread) locally and to distant areas because they continue to reproduce. Learn about cancers here.

RISK FACTORS

liver cancer

It’s not clear exactly what causes liver cancer, but various things can raise the risk. Individuals with a family history of the disease or other risk factors should speak with their doctor about possible measures to watch for or lower their chance of developing this particular cancer because there are currently no widely recommended routine screening tests for the condition. However, certain factors have been identified as being associated with an increased chance of developing liver cancer:

  • Age. With aging, the risk of developing cancer increases. It is more common in people above 50 years of age, with 66 years in the United States.
  • Gender Men are two times more likely than women to get liver cancer, with a one-to-one risk ratio.
  • Obesity & Diabetes. Obesity may raise the risk of developing liver cancer, most likely via non-alcoholic—steatohepatitis (NASH) and, eventually, cirrhosis.
  • Race & Ethnicity. In the United States, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have the highest incidence. In comparison, white Americans have the lowest risk of liver cancer.
  • Liver Disease. Most Americans with liver cancer have cirrhosis first. Having fatty liver disease, Hepatitis B or C virus infection is the most prevalent risk factor for liver cancer.
  • Alcohol and Nicotine Addiction. Alcohol consumption is a common cause of liver cirrhosis, which raises a person’s chance of developing cancer of the liver. The same is the case for smokers; they are at higher risk of developing cancer.
  • Exposure to Certain Compounds. Certain types of cancer-causing substances are linked with cancer. Such as people who are exposed to aflatoxin seem to be at risk. Aflatoxin is a toxin made by mold that can grow on peanuts, grains, and corn. Chronic exposure to arsenic compounds (found in wells) is another exposure material that may lead to liver carcinoma. Exposure to vinyl chloride (used in some plastics) and thorium dioxide (used in X-ray testing) may raise the risk of liver angiosarcoma.

SYMPTOMS

There may be no symptoms of liver cancer or vague signs such as fatigue, fever, chills, and night sweats. Or the symptoms may be difficult to detect. When signs and symptoms manifest, they may include the following:

  • Discomfort, pain, swelling, and tenderness in the abdomen. Especially in the upper abdomen.
  • Jaundice: yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.
  • White, chalky-colored stools.
  • Weakness and fatigue.
  • Abrupt weight loss without any regimen followed for it.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea & vomiting.
  • Feeling Itchy all over the body.
  • Swelling in legs.

Even if the symptoms point to another liver illness or other ailment, they should be investigated. Early cancer identification improves treatment response.

DIAGNOSING LIVER CANCER

A medical history and physical examination are necessary to diagnose liver cancer. Tests to diagnose both liver cancer and secondary cancer of the liver include:

  • Blood Tests. Blood tests can determine the health of the liver and the clotting ability of the blood, as well as the presence of particular substances known as tumor markers (total alpha-fetoprotein (AFP),  AFP-L3, and DCP), hepatitis B or C, and any genetic abnormalities that may lead to this cancer.
  • AFP is a protein that is normally present in fetuses but disappears at birth. Adults with increased AFP may have liver cancer, as it is produced in 70% of cases.

  • Liver Function Tests. By monitoring the amounts of proteins, liver enzymes, and bilirubin in your blood, liver function tests (LFTs) assist your doctor in determining the health of your liver and better understanding for liver cancer.
  • Ultrasound. Ultrasound is the most often used tool for detecting the primary type of cancer. It provides images of the organ and can reveal the amount and location of abnormal tissue in your liver.
  • CT Scan. When a CT scan is performed, three-dimensional images of various organs are produced simultaneously, assisting surgeons in planning the surgery. It can help determine whether or not the malignancy has spread. PET-CT scans are more frequently employed to detect secondary tumors in the liver.
  • MRI. These scans may assist in distinguishing between benign and malignant cancers. They may also evaluate blood channels in and around the liver. It can also help your doctor locate tumor, measure its size, and identify if it has spread to other organs.
  • Biopsy. Another diagnostic test option is a liver biopsy. A liver biopsy involves extracting a small amount of liver tissue. It’s always performed using an anesthetic to prevent you from experiencing pain throughout the process. Your doctor may acquire a tissue sample to identify the type and stage of the disease using fine-needle aspiration (FNA), core needle biopsy, or laparoscopic biopsy options.

Before testing, inform your physician if you have a history of persistent alcoholism or chronic hepatitis B or C infection. The testing results may take few weeks to be reported; if waiting is for a longer time to receive the results, don’t be discouraged. It’s not a guarantee that something’s amiss.

It’s normal to be unhappy or bewildered after learning someone has liver cancer. This is normal. Most individuals will struggle, but some will go about their usual routine. An experienced team will guide through diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up. 

LIVER CANCER TREATMENT

liver cancer treatment

The treatment for liver cancer is not always the same. Several factors, including the extent to which cancer has progressed, liver function, size & location of tumors, influence your prognosis and treatment options if you have liver cancer.  The specialized care team will:
  • Describe the treatments, their advantages, and their disadvantages.
  • Collaborate to develop the most effective treatment plan.
  • Assist you in managing any side effects, including dietary adjustments to aid with digestion.

Following treatment can be used to treat and eliminate cancer from the body.

Surgery/Hepatectomy

A hepatectomy is a surgical procedure used to remove either a piece of the liver or the entire liver. This procedure is performed after cancer has been restricted to the liver in most cases. Over time, the remaining healthy tissue will recover and completely replace the lost portion due to liver regenerative ability.

Ablation

Ablation is a cancer treatment that involves heat or ethanol injections to kill cancer cells. Local anesthetic is used throughout the procedure. This numbs the area, preventing from experiencing any discomfort. People who are not candidates for surgery or a transplant may benefit from ablation therapy. Ablation may be a reasonable solution if liver tumors are less than 3 cm in diameter. It can also be used with embolization on slightly larger tumors (3-5 cm across).

Liver Transplant

A liver transplant is a surgical procedure that involves the replacement of the damaged liver with a healthy liver from a compatible donor. If a compatible donor is available, it is the best option. A transplant can be performed only if cancer has not progressed to other organs. 

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy involves substances produced naturally in the body or synthesized in the laboratory to strengthen the patient’s immune system or to aid it in detecting and attacking cancer cells. These medications work in a variety of ways to kill cancer cells. They are normally reserved for cases of advanced liver cancer that has progressed to other organs or body parts.

Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy, sometimes referred to as cryosurgery or cryoablation, is a method of treating liver cancer that includes the use of extremely low temperatures (generated by liquid nitrogen) to eradicate malignant cells. Cryotherapy for liver cancer is intended to improve chances of survival and is not intended to be a permanent cure. It is frequently used to treat metastasis that has progressed to an advanced stage.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the process of killing cancer cells with medications. Chemotherapy can be administered systemically, either by pills or intravenously (through a drip), meaning that it is distributed throughout the entire body. This treatment may be used after other cancer treatments, such as surgery or cryotherapy, in order to eliminate any leftover cancer cells In the case of liver cancer, the chemotherapy medication is frequently injected directly into the malignancy’s blood vessels. Its purpose is to halt the growth of the malignancy.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted treatment may be used to treat certain types of liver cancer. It involves the use of medications or other substances that are meant to “target” the genetic abnormalities (mutations) that distinguish liver cancer cells from normal cells. It is the best choice of treatment for individuals who are unable to undergo surgery due to a medical condition, or cancer cannot be removed surgically due to its spread to another section of the body.

Radiotherapyradiotherapy for liver cancer

Radiation therapy destroys cancer cells by utilizing energy rays comparable to X-rays. Radiation can be given in one of two methods to treat liver cancer. External radiation therapy uses a machine to deliver radiation to the tumor.
Radioembolization Or Internal radiation typically uses radioactive beads inserted near the tumor to kill cancer cells or slow tumor growth. Selective internal radiation treatment (SIRT) is sometimes used. This procedure involves injecting radioactive beads into the liver’s bloodstream in order to halt cancer from spreading.

PREVENTION OF LIVER CANCER

Unfortunately, liver cancer cannot always be prevented. However, one can minimize your risk of developing liver damage by avoiding diseases that can lead to liver cancer.
1. Get Vaccinated for Hepatitis B

One can lower the risk of hepatitis B by being vaccinated. The vaccination is safe to provide to practically anyone, including infants, the elderly, and individuals with impaired immune systems.

2. Prevent Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C has no vaccine, but you can minimize your risk by doing the following:

  • Use only clean intravenous (IV) needles.
  • When undergoing a piercing or tattoo, look for clean, safe settings.
  • Know your sexual partner’s health. Don’t have unprotected intercourse until you’re sure your partner isn’t infected with HBV, HCV, or another STD.
3. Treat Hepatitis

Hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections can be treated with medication. According to research, therapy can lower the risk of developing liver cancer.

4. Reduce Cirrhosis Risk
Cirrhosis is liver scarring that raises the risk of liver cancer. Cirrhosis risk can be reduced by:
  • Maintain a healthy weight by eating well and exercising most days of the week. To lose weight, lower calorie intake, and increase exercise.
  • Reduce alcohol intake. If you prefer to consume alcoholic beverages, keep your consumption to a minimum. For women, this means no more than one alcoholic beverage per day. For men, this means no more than two alcoholic beverages each day. Learn more methods to reduce the urge of drinking by clicking here.
5. Antioxidants Can Help

Antioxidants have the action of preventing oxidative damage from occurring. Antioxidant properties have been discovered for a variety of compounds, including curcumin, resveratrol, and vitamin E and its supplements.  When consumed in sufficient quantities, it has been found to lower the risk of cancer and delay cancer progression.

Vitamin K2 is an antioxidant that can dramatically reduce the risk of liver cirrhosis developing into liver cancer following viral hepatitis.

5. Ask Your Doctor For Liver Cancer Screening

Screening for liver cancer in the general population has not been shown to reduce the chance of mortality from liver cancer, and it is not typically recommended. But People who have diseases that enhance their risk of liver cancer, such as Hepatitis B and C and liver cirrhosis, should consider getting screened for liver cancer.

The pros and cons of screening should be talked about with your doctor. Together, you can decide if you should be screened based on your risk. A blood test and an abdominal ultrasound are usually done every six months as part of screening.

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Aimen

Being a Doctor by profession, Aimen is passionate about helping people get better health in their lives. Aimen enjoys her research on Prime With Time subjects and strives to create better awareness of the problems and changes related to women's health.
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