Understanding Liver Cancer And
How To Manage It

Your guide to understanding all aspects of liver cancer

“I’m here. That’s the miracle I’ve been looking for.” 

Brain Vaszily

Early detection and diagnosis always increase your chances of receiving successful treatment and beating all forms of cancer – especially liver cancer. Detecting liver cancer early will significantly boost your odds of survival.

You can read the section that details the various types of cancer before embarking on the journey to understand liver cancer better. Read more

Let’s understand
the anatomy first

The liver is one of the largest organs in the body. It has two lobes and fills the upper right side of the abdomen, inside the rib cage. The main functions of the liver are to filter harmful substances from the blood, to help digest fats in food and to store sugars which the body uses for energy.

What is liver cancer?

Liver cancer begins when malignant cells start to form in the tissues of the liver. These cells grow in an abnormal or uncontrolled manner and form a tumour. Cancer may sometimes spread or metastasize through the liver cells and tissue to other parts of the body.

Types of Liver Cancer

There are four main types of cancer that originate in the liver

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)

The most common type of liver cancer, it originates in the main cells of the liver (called the hepatocytes).

Fibrolamellar HCC

This is a rare form of liver disease that usually affects younger people

Bile duct cancer
(Cholangiocarcinoma)

This type of liver cancer starts in the cells lining a part of the digestive system known as the bile duct

Angiosarcoma

A very rare form of liver cancer, it usually starts in the blood vessels of the liver

What causes liver cancer?

Clinical practitioners and researchers do not know the exact causes of liver cancer. There are certain risk factors (detailed below) that can increase your chance of developing it; however, having one or more risk factors does not mean that you will definitely get liver cancer. On the other hand, having no risk factors also does not mean you will not get the disease. Liver cancer is likely to be caused by a combination of these factors, rather than just one.

What are the Risk Factors?

Although clinicians do not fully understand what causes liver cancer, here are some factors that put people at higher risk. Being associated with a risk factor does not necessarily mean that you will develop liver cancer

A family history of liver cancer

Excessive smoking or use of chewing tobacco

Obesity

High alcohol consumption

Certain pre-existing medical conditions can also increase your risk, including

  • Cirrhosis (a condition which causes scarring of the liver)
  • Chronic Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C infections
  • Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) – liver cirrhosis that is not attributable to excessive consumption of alcohol

What Can be Done to Lower Your Risk of Getting Liver Cancer?

Evidence suggests that taking appropriate steps to avoid risk factors like smoking, obesity and excessive alcohol consumption may reduce the risk of liver cancer. Being treated for chronic Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C infections in a timely manner (or receiving the relevant vaccinations) may also reduce the probability of getting liver cancer.

What are the Symptoms?

Patients with early stages of liver cancer often do not exhibit symptoms. However, there are certain symptoms associated with liver cancer as the disease progresses, including

Unexplained weight loss

Loss of appetite

Extreme fatigue

Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen

Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)

Pale bowel movements or loose stools

Severe pain or swelling of the abdomen

Fever

Screening for liver cancer

Liver cancer may occur in both men and women. Unfortunately, no standard or routine screening tests are performed for liver cancer. However, if you experience any of the symptoms listed above or any other inexplicable change, make an appointment with your doctor for prompt evaluation. If you or your loved one have a family history of liver cancer, have an open discussion with your doctor about undergoing genetic testing or routine check-ups.

Diagnostic tests for liver cancer

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above or your doctor detects any abnormalities, he or she may recommend follow-up diagnostic tests to confirm if cancer is present. Refer to this section for more information about diagnostic tests for liver cancer. Read more

Staging liver cancer

If your doctor confirms that you have gallbladder cancer, further tests may be done to study the cancer cells and determine

If the disease has spread beyond the liver (i.e. determine the stage of cancer)

How quickly the cancer will grow

How likely it is to spread through the body

What sort of treatments might work

The likelihood of the cancer to recur (come back)

The stage of your cancer is a key aspect in determining your treatment. Refer to this section to understand your cancer diagnosis and for more information about how liver cancer is staged. Read more

Treatment options
for Liver cancer

The decision about the best course of treatment is based on these test results and the type, stage, grade and size of your tumour. Refer to this section to understand the types of cancer treatments for liver cancer and possible side effects. Read more

Your cancer journey
Everyone deals with a liver cancer diagnosis and treatment in a different way. Refer to this section, to understand various aspects of your cancer journey and the road to recovery. Read more
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