Liver cancer is a type of cancer that primarily affects the cells of the liver. It can develop as a result of a variety of causes, including long-term inflammation, infection, and exposure to certain toxic substances, but the exact cause of the cancer often remains unknown. Liver cancer is among the most common types of cancer and is among the most deadly. Symptoms can include abdominal pain, nausea, jaundice, weight loss, fatigue, and a swollen abdomen. Treatment for liver cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted therapy.
The most common symptom of liver cancer is a painless lump or mass in the upper right side of the abdomen. Other symptoms may include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal swelling and pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- White, chalky stool
- Weakness and fatigue
- Dark urine
- Abnormal blood vessels on the skin
- Enlarged veins in the abdomen
- Easy bruising and bleeding
- Fever or night sweats
The known causes of liver cancer include cirrhosis (scarring and hardening of the liver), long-term exposure to hepatitis B or hepatitis C viruses, alcohol abuse, smoking, aflatoxins (found in moldy foods), a family history of liver cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes, and certain inherited conditions (such as hemochromatosis and glycogen storage disease).
The main risk factors for developing liver cancer are:
- Chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus or hepatitis C virus.
- Long-term excessive consumption of alcohol.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
- Certain inherited liver disorders such as hemochromatosis or Wilson’s disease.
- Having a family history of liver cancer or cirrhosis.
- Chronic exposure to industrial chemicals and other toxins, including aflatoxins and vinyl chloride.
- Older age.
The diagnosis of liver cancer will typically involve the doctor ordering imaging tests such as an ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scan, MRI, or positron emission tomography (PET) scan, to get an idea of the tumor’s size and spread. Additionally, a biopsy of the tumor may be requested to further analyze its makeup and to rule out other types of liver diseases. In some cases, doctors may also order blood tests or other laboratory tests to check for elevated levels of certain enzymes or proteins that may be associated with liver cancer.
There are three main types of liver cancer: hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer), and angiosarcoma.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of liver cancer. It develops from the hepatic cells of the liver and is often associated with cirrhosis and chronic liver damage due to alcohol, viruses, or toxins.
Cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer) is a cancer that begins in the cells of the bile ducts in the liver and spread to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, lungs, or other organs.
Angiosarcoma is a rare type of liver cancer that forms in the walls of the blood vessels and can spread to other organs. It is most often found in the elderly.
In addition to the three main types of liver cancer, there are several subtypes of liver cancer, including hepatoblastoma, fibrolamellar carcinoma, and intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma.
Hepatoblastoma is a rare cancer that primarily affects children and infants and is usually found near the liver’s surface.
Fibrolamellar carcinoma is a type of liver cancer that develops in the connective tissue of the liver. It is considered a rare disease and can affect people of any age.
Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma is a cancer that develops in the ducts that carry bile from the liver to the small intestine. It is a rare type of liver cancer, and is often difficult to diagnose and treat.
Treatment options for liver cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, radiofrequency ablation, cryoablation, chemoembolization, targeted therapy, and liver transplantation. Surgery is the most commonly used treatment, and is the only option that can potentially cure the cancer. Radiation therapy and radiofrequency ablation are used to target and destroy cancerous tissue in the liver. Cryoablation uses extreme cold temperatures to freeze and kill cancer cells. Chemoembolization involves combining the effects of chemotherapy and embolization to block the blood supply to the liver, thereby killing cancer cells without damaging healthy tissue nearby. Targeted therapy is an advanced type of drug treatment specifically designed to target cancer-causing mutations. Liver transplantation is reserved for patients with very early stage cancers and in whom all other treatment options have failed.
- Avoid excessive alcohol intake: Limiting or completely avoiding alcohol consumption can help to significantly reduce the risk of liver cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Inadequate weight or carrying extra weight can lead to increased risk of developing many forms of cancer, including liver cancer.
- Avoid exposure to toxins: Avoiding contact with certain chemicals, such as those found in paint, pesticides, and certain types of solvent, can help to reduce the risk of liver cancer.
- Get vaccinated: Vaccines are available to guard against hepatitis A and B, two major risk factors for liver cancer.
- Exercise regularly: Regular physical activity can help to lower the risk of developing a range of cancers, including liver cancer.
- Get a regular checkup: Regular liver checkups help to detect any pre-existing liver disease, which can help to prevent more serious health problems, including liver cancer.
Yes, there are gender-specific differences in the presentation and management of Liver cancer. Studies have found that women are more likely to present with advanced-stage liver cancer, which is associated with a higher mortality rate. Additionally, women are less likely to receive appropriate treatment for the disease, including palliative care, than men. Women are also more likely to have poorer outcomes than men when it comes to the overall prognosis of liver cancer. This is likely due to the fact that women tend to have less access to specialized medical care, as well as a poorer overall health status than men. As such, it is important for healthcare providers to take into account gender-specific differences when providing treatment for liver cancer.
Nutrition plays an important role in the management of liver cancer, as having a balanced diet can improve survivability and quality of life. Eating a diet low in sodium, fat, and cholesterol, and high in plant-based foods, can help reduce risk of cirrhosis, which is an underlying risk factor for liver cancer. Additionally, liver cancer patients should eat enough calories and protein, as well as take supplements to prevent malnutrition, which can occur due to side effects from the cancer or from treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. Eating smaller and more frequent meals can also help manage appetite, as can drinking plenty of fluids. Finally, working with a nutritionist to develop an appropriate diet for the individual patient is essential for managing the disease and getting the right nutrition and sustenance.
Physical activity has been linked to numerous health benefits, including a reduced risk of liver cancer. Regular exercise has been associated with lower levels of insulin and lower blood sugar levels, which can help improve overall body composition and aid with weight management. Additionally, physical activity can reduce systemic inflammation, which is implicated in the development and progression of liver cancer. Exercise can also help reduce levels of fat in the liver, which can result in reduced oxidative stress and improved liver function. Furthermore, evidence suggests that physical activity may improve the body’s natural antioxidants and help reduce the risk of cancer cell proliferation and metastasis. Ultimately, regular exercise can reduce the risk of liver cancer, increase longevity, and help maintain overall health.