What is Liver Cancer?
The liver is a large internal organ that sits under the right rib, just under the right lung. It has many important responsibilities, including breaking down and storing nutrients absorbed from the intestines, creating clotting factors that stop you from bleeding too much, delivering bile into the intestines and breaking down alcohol, drugs and toxic waste in the blood. When liver cells develop mutations in their DNA and grow out of control, liver cancer may occur.
There are different types of liver cancer, with the most common being hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). This liver cancer may begin as a solo tumor that grows larger, or as many small cancer nodules throughout the liver.
In many cases, the symptoms of liver cancer do not show up until the disease is in its later stages. However, if you experiencing any of these common symptoms be sure to speak with your doctor:
- Loss of appetite.
- Feeling very full after a small meal.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Weight loss.
- An enlarged spleen or liver.
- Pain or swelling in the abdomen.
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice).
There are certain factors that may raise your risk of developing liver cancer, including chronic infection with hepatitis B or C, cirrhosis of the liver, certain inherited liver diseases, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, diabetes and excessive consumption of alcohol.
How is Liver Cancer Diagnosed?
It is often difficult to find liver cancer early because signs and symptoms do not usually appear until its later stages. However, if liver cancer is detected early, more treatment options may be available. Those who are at high risk for developing liver cancer usually have cirrhosis, hereditary hemochromatosis or chronic hepatitis B. In these cases, screening for liver cancer may be performed to try to catch it in the early stages.
Treatment Options for Liver Cancer
Treatment for liver cancer will depend on the stage of the cancer as well as the patient’s age, overall health and preferences.
Surgical procedures for liver cancer include a partial hepatectomy to remove part of the liver, or a liver transplant. Liver transplants can be an option for those with tumors that cannot be removed with surgery, either because of the location of the tumors or because the liver has too much disease for the patient to tolerate removing part of it.
Ablation involves destroying liver tumors without removing them. It is often performed for patients with small tumors or when surgery is not a good option.
Radiation uses high-energy particles or rays to eliminate cancer cells. This option may be used to treat liver cancer that cannot be removed by surgery, cannot be treated with ablation or has spread to other areas.
Targeted Drug Therapy
Targeted drugs work by entering the bloodstream and reaching almost every area of the body, including those areas where cancer has spread.
Immunotherapy drugs help your immune system locate and destroy cancer cells, and are usually reserved for those with advanced liver cancer.
Chemotherapy is a treatment option that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It is often an option for those who cannot be treated with surgery or have not responded well to ablation or targeted therapy.
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