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Liver Cancer

Liver cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the cells of your liver. The liver is a football-sized organ located in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen, beneath the diaphragm and above the stomach.

The liver can develop several types of cancer. Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common type of liver cancer, and it begins in the main type of liver cell (hepatocyte). Other types of liver cancer are much less common, such as intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma and hepatoblastoma.

Cancer that spreads to the liver is more common than cancer that starts in the cells of the liver. Metastatic cancer, rather than liver cancer, is cancer that begins in another part of the body, such as the colon, lung, or breast, and then spreads to the liver. This type of cancer is named after the organ in which it first appeared, such as metastatic colon cancer, which refers to cancer that begins in the colon and spreads to the liver.

Symptoms

In the early stages of primary liver cancer, most people have no symptoms. When signs and symptoms do appear, they may include the following:

  • Losing weight without making an effort
  • Appetite loss
  • Upper abdominal discomfort
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • General fatigue and weakness
  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • Your skin and the whites of your eyes are yellow (jaundice)
  • Stools are white and chalky.

Causes

Liver cancer develops when the DNA of liver cells changes (mutates). The DNA of a cell is the material that contains the instructions for every chemical process in your body. Changes in these instructions are caused by DNA mutations. As a result, cells may begin to proliferate uncontrollably, eventually forming a tumour — a mass of cancerous cells.

The cause of liver cancer is sometimes known, such as in chronic hepatitis infections. However, liver cancer can occur in people who have no underlying diseases, and it is unknown what causes it.

Risk elements

The following are risk factors for primary liver cancer:

  • Chronic HBV or HCV infection Chronic infection with the hepatitis B or C viruses increases your risk of developing liver cancer.
  • Cirrhosis. Scar tissue forms in your liver as a result of this progressive and irreversible condition, increasing your chances of developing liver cancer.
  • Some inherited liver diseases Hemochromatosis and Wilson's disease are two liver diseases that can increase the risk of developing liver cancer.
  • Diabetes. People with diabetes are more likely to develop liver cancer than those who do not have diabetes.
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Fat accumulation in the liver increases the risk of developing liver cancer.
  • Aflatoxin exposure. Aflatoxins are poisons produced by moulds that grow on poorly stored crops. Aflatoxin contamination can occur in crops such as grains and nuts, which can then end up in foods made from these products.
  • Drinking too much alcohol. Consuming more than a moderate amount of alcohol daily for a long period of time can cause irreversible liver damage and increase your risk of developing liver cancer.

Prevention

Reduce your chances of developing cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is liver scarring that increases the risk of liver cancer. Cirrhosis risk can be reduced if you:

Drink alcohol sparingly, if at all. If you choose to drink alcohol, keep your consumption to a minimum. This means no more than one drink per day for women. This means no more than two drinks per day for men.

Keep a healthy weight. If your current weight is healthy, work to keep it that way by eating well and exercising most days of the week. If you want to lose weight, cut back on the number of calories you consume each day and increase your physical activity.

Obtain a hepatitis B vaccination. You can reduce your risk of hepatitis B by getting vaccinated. The vaccine is safe to administer to almost anyone, including infants, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.

Take precautions to avoid hepatitis C. There is no hepatitis C vaccine, but you can reduce your risk of infection.

Learn about the health of any sexual partner. Do not engage in unprotected sex unless you are confident that your partner is not infected with HBV, HCV, or another sexually transmitted infection. If you don't know your partner's health status, use a condom every time you have sexual contact.

If you must use intravenous (IV) drugs, use a clean needle. Avoid injecting illegal drugs to lower your risk of HCV. If that isn't an option, make sure any needle you use is sterile and that you don't share it. A common source of hepatitis C infection is contaminated drug paraphernalia.

When getting a piercing or tattoo, look for a safe, clean location. Needles that have not been properly sterilised have the potential to spread the hepatitis C virus. Check out the shops in your area and ask staff members about their safety practises before getting a piercing or tattoo. If shop employees refuse to answer your questions or don't take them seriously, it's a sign that the facility isn't right for you.

Seek treatment if you have hepatitis B or C. Hepatitis B and C infections have treatments available. According to research, treatment can lower the risk of developing liver cancer.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will insert a thin needle through your skin and into your liver to obtain a tissue sample during a liver biopsy. Doctors examine the tissue under a microscope in the lab to look for cancer cells. A liver biopsy can result in bleeding, bruising, and infection.

Determining the extent of the cancer in the liver Once you've been diagnosed with liver cancer, your doctor will work to determine the extent (stage) of the disease.