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Liver Cancer: Facts on symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

  • Posted on- Oct 15, 2015
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Liver cancer is a form of cancer that starts in the cells of your liver. The liver can be affected by primary liver cancer, which starts in the liver itself, or which develops in other organs of the body and then spreads to the liver.

Since liver is made up of several different types of cells, various types of tumours can form there. Some are cancerous and some are non-cancerous. Different forms of benign tumours of the liver include haemangioma, hepatic adenoma, focal nodular hyperplasia, cysts, lipoma, fibroma and leiomyoma.

Signs and symptoms associated with liver cancer

In early stages of liver cancer, there are no signs and symptoms. When signs and symptoms do appear, they may include:

  • Losing weight without trying
  • Loss of appetite
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • General weakness and fatigue
  • Abdominal inflammation
  • Yellow discoloration of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
  • White, chalky stools

Tests and diagnosis for liver cancer

Early detection of liver cancer is not performed routinely because normally it is associated with people at high risk for the disease which includes patients with hemochromatosis, chronic hepatitis, and alcoholics. Your doctor may perform certain tests in order to diagnose liver cancer:
  • Blood tests that may reveal liver function abnormalities.
  • Imaging tests such as ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which can detect very small tumours.
  • A liver biopsy where a sample of tissue is removed from your liver and examined under a microscope.
  • A laparoscopy is useful for detecting small tumours and confirming previous tests.

Treatment options for liver cancer

Liver cancer is difficult to treat because it never gets identifies initially or because it has already spread. Though, there are several options which depend on the extent of the disease as well as your age, overall health and personal preferences:
  • Surgery to remove a portion of the liver: In certain situations, your doctor may suggest removing the liver cancer and a small portion of healthy tissue that surrounds it if your tumour is small and your liver function is good.
  • Liver transplant surgery: During liver transplant surgery, your diseased liver is removed and replaced with a healthy liver from a donor.
  • Freezing cancer cells: Cryoablation uses extreme cold to destroy cancer cells. The procedure involves your doctor placing an instrument containing liquid nitrogen directly onto liver tumours.
  • Heating cancer cells: The procedure is called radiofrequency ablation, where electric current is used to heat and destroy cancer cells.
  • Injecting alcohol into the tumour: During alcohol injection, pure alcohol is injected directly into tumours, either through the skin or during a surgery. Alcohol causes the tumour cells to die.
  • Injecting chemotherapy drugs into the liver: It is a form of treatment that supplies strong anti-cancer drugs directly to the liver.
  • Radiation therapy: This treatment uses high-powered energy beams to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumours.
  • Targeted drug therapy: Targeted drugs work by interfering with a tumour’s ability to generate new blood vessels.

Patients who have received treatment for liver cancer must be monitored regularly to avoid the chances of recurrence.