The liver is a major organ that lies in the abdomen just beneath the ribs on the right side. It weighs around 1500 g and its major functions include
Production of bile, which breaks down your food components into nutrients for absorption
Converts the absorbed nutrients into various forms of energy
Produces many hormones and vital proteins essential for the body
Cleans up toxins present in your blood arising from metabolism and medications
Helps control metabolism of fat and production of cholesterol
Production of proteins essential for blood clotting
The liver can be affected by primary liver cancer, which arises in the liver, or by cancer which forms in other parts of the body and then spreads to the liver. Most liver cancer is secondary or metastatic, meaning it started elsewhere in the body. Primary liver cancers hardly constitute 2% of all cancers that occur in a person’s body.
As liver is made up of different genres of cells, most of the tumors formed in the liver are typically non-cancerous or benign. These are
Focal nodular hyperplasia
These tumors are never treated like liver cancer. They are usually observed by regular ultrasound abdomen and are surgically removed, if they cause pain or bleeding.
Liver Cancers include
Hepatocellular Carcinoma or HCC and
Cholangiocarcinoma, this is a cancer that affects the bile ducts.
We will be discussing about Hepatocellular carcinoma in detail.
Causes and risk factors for Liver Cancer.
Factors that increase the risk of primary liver cancer include:
Chronic infection with HBV or HCV. Chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV) increases your risk of liver cancer.
Cirrhosis. This progressive and irreversible condition causes scar tissue to form in your liver and increases your chances of developing liver cancer.
Certain inherited liver diseases.Liver diseases that can increase the risk of liver cancer include hemochromatosis and Wilson's disease.
Diabetes. People with this blood sugar disorder have a greater risk of liver cancer than those who don't have diabetes.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. An accumulation of fat in the liver increases the risk of liver cancer.
Exposure to aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are poisons produced by molds that grow on crops that are stored poorly.
Excessive alcohol consumption. Consuming more than a moderate amount of alcohol daily over many years can lead to irreversible liver damage and increase your risk of liver cancer.
Most liver cancers do not cause symptoms in the early stages. As the tumor grows in size, these are the following symptoms you would be experiencing. And they are
Pain or heaviness in the right side of your abdomen
Feeling of fullness while eating
Loss of appetite
Sudden decrease in weight
Yellowing of skin and eyes (Jaundice)
Swelling of abdomen
Diagnosis of Liver tumors
Blood tests : Blood tests may reveal liver function abnormalities. It may also reveal elevation in levels of a protein called AFP – Alpha Feto Protein, which indicates presence of Liver Cancer.
Imaging tests : Your doctor may recommend imaging tests, such as an ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These tests will let your doctor know about the presence of liver cancer, its location, size and extent.
Your doctor may recommend removing a piece of liver tissue for laboratory testing in order to make a definitive diagnosis of liver cancer.During a liver biopsy, your doctor inserts a thin needle through your skin and into your liver to obtain a tissue sample. In the lab, doctors examine the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells. Liver biopsy carries a risk of bleeding, bruising and infection.
In case, the cancerous tumors are relatively smaller in size, a surgery is adopted and a portion of the liver infected with cancerous cells are surgically removed.
A Cancer infected liver is replaced with a healthier liver from another person. This is an option advocated by doctors, if your liver is adversely affected with a chronic form of liver disease namely the cirrhosis. And there is quite a high possibility of the liver transplant being rejected by your body. Other side-effects of a liver transplant includes, diabetes, weakening of bones and kidneys, increased body hair growth, high blood pressure, etc.
Your doctor uses heat, laser or injects a special type of alcohol or acid, into your liver affected blood stream. This is in order to kill cancerous cells.
Beams of powerful radiation is targeted at cancerous cells, in order to completely destroy and eliminate them. Normal liver cells are also very sensitive to radiation. Side-effects post radiation therapy include, skin irritation near the site as to where the radiation was infused, vomiting, nausea and fatigue.
Chemotherapy is usually a medicine given away to patients infected with any form of cancer, in order to kill cancer cells. And liver cancer is no exception. The medicines are given in the form of oral based prescriptions or injections targeting the artery or vein feeding the liver.
Though the side-effects of Chemotherapy include those of vomiting, nausea, hair loss, swollen legs, etc. these are usually temporary.
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