Information on Liver Cancer

Did you know that the liver is the largest organ inside your body? Just beneath the right lung, this 1.7 kilogram, reddish- brown, rubbery body part filters your blood, detoxifies chemicals and metabolizes drugs. In short, being without a liver or having one that is dysfunctional is without a doubt life threatening.


Liver cancer is a common type of cancer.  Primary Liver cancer (also known as Hepatic cancer) begins in the cells of the liver. However, when cancer has spread from other parts of the body to the liver, it is referred to as Liver Metastasis and this type is more common than the primary liver cancer.

The most common types of liver cancer are hepatocellular carcinoma and cholangiocarcinoma. Hepatocellular carcinoma occurs as a single tumour or many small cancer nodules throughout the liver. Cholangiocarcinoma on the other hand is a form of cancer that is composed of muted epithelial cells that originate in the lining of the bile duct (the bile duct drains bile from the liver to the small intestine).


Signs of liver cancer include the following: a lump in the right side below the rib cage, swelling in the abdomen, yellowish skin, loss of weight, fatigue, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms could however be related to other chronic diseases and it is crucial to seek medical advice if you get them.


Hepatic (primary) cancer may be linked to dietary or lifestyle and environmental factors. Long term exposure to chemicals and excessive use of alcohol are causes of liver cancer, with alcohol being the major cause. Alcohol abuse and use increases the risk of liver Cirrhosis which scars the liver and which, in turn, increases the chances of getting liver cancer. This is probably the reason why men aged 55 and above are at a higher risk of suffering from primary liver cancer. Apart from alcohol abuse, obesity is another lifestyle factor that can bring about liver cancer. Hepatitis B and C, and aflatoxins are other causes of liver cancer.


The best way to diagnose liver cancer is through an ultrasound by an oncologist who, if he or she suspects liver cancer, then orders blood tests, a liver biopsy or imaging studies (MRI or CT scan).


There are several treatment options for liver cancer such as chemotherapy, liver transplant, surgery, ablation therapy, embolization, radiotherapy, and target agent.

Chemotherapy is the use of chemical substances (especially cytotoxic and other drugs) to kill the cancer cells while radiotherapy uses high-energy rays. Ablation therapy is a procedure that kills cancer cells in the liver without surgery using heat or lasers or by injecting special acid or alcohol into the cancer. Embolization starves the cancer by blocking blood from flowing to the cancer. Liver transplants involve giving the cancer victim a new liver, while target agent is the use of medication to prolong the life of the victim.


It is possible to prevent primary liver cancer by having regular liver ultrasounds and by avoiding excessive use of alcohol. It is also important to get a vaccination for hepatitis B and to control your weight to ensure you’re not obese by eating healthily and remaining active.

Remember that treating cancer in its early stages is more manageable and less costly.

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