Liver cancer maybe primary, meaning it arises in liver cells, or secondary meaning it arises elsewhere and then spreads to the liver. Primary liver cancer is rare in the west but secondary liver cancer is comparatively common.
By far the most common form of liver cancer is secondary cancer (metastases) from elsewhere in the body, commonly cancers of the lung, breast, colon, pancreas and stomach. Other types of cancer, such as leukaemia and lymphoma, may also spread to the liver. Liver metastases form when cancerous cells separate from the original cancer, circulate in the blood and settle in the liver, where they multiply and enlarge.
Symptoms of Liver Cancer
People may already have symptoms due to the original cancer, but sometimes this cancer is not apparent. The symptoms of liver metastases may be the only warning of illness. They include:
- weight loss
- reduced appetite
- pain in the upper right side of the abdomen
- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice).
As the disease progresses, the abdomen may become swollen due to enlargement of the liver or fluid accumulation.
Measures of Liver Cancer
Anyone who has cancer will have tests, such as ultrasound scanning, computerized tomography (CT) scanning and magnetic resonance imaging (MR1) to find out if the liver is affected. To confirm diagnosis, a piece of liver tissue (biopsy) may be removed for microscopic examination. Treatment aims to maintain liver.funotion and relieve symptoms. You may be offered analgesics for pain and chemotherapy or radiotherapy to reduce the size of metastases. Surgery may be considered if there is a single metastasis.
Primary liver cancer is rare in the West, where most cases occur following long-standing cirrhosis due to long-term alcohol abuse. Another cause of liver cancer is contamination of food by carcinogens (cancer-causing agents)
such as aflatoxin, a toxin produced by a fungus that grows on stored grain and peanuts. In developing countries, liver cancer is closely linked with viral hepatitis, especially that due to the hepatitis B and C viruses, which account for approximately 7 in 10 cases.
Surgery offers the only chance of a cure. A liver transplant may be considered but is rarely done because in many cases the cancer is likely to recur. More commonly, the aim is to slow the progress of the disease with treatments that include chemotherapy and blocking the blood supply to the tumour, causing it to shrink.
The oudook for people with liver cancer is poor. Many people do not respond to treatment and survive less than a year after diagnosis.