The liver, a major organ, in the body performs over 500 vital functions and is responsible for maintaining overall health. Abnormal cancerous growth in the organ leads to liver cancer. Cancer may either start in the liver cells or spread from other parts of the body.
The symptoms of liver cancer can be easily detected. The common symptoms are:
- Abdominal swelling.
- Abrupt weight loss.
- Loss of appetite.
- Persistent bloating.
- Lump below the ribs.
- Itching sensation.
- Back pain.
The exact cause of liver cancer is not known. The possible causes, however, are:
- Hepatitis B and C infection.
- Inherited liver disorders.
- Excessive alcohol consumption.
- Gender: Men are more prone than women.
- Family history of cancer.
- Poor immune system.
- Type-2 diabetes.
People with hepatitis B and C infections, liver cirrhosis, and excessive alcohol consumption are more prone to liver cancer. Patients with cirrhosis and hepatitis are also recommended to go for liver cancer screening as it helps in early detection. Liver cancer at advanced stages is difficult to manage and treat. Hence, it is crucial to look for early symptoms and bring them to the physician’s attention.
If liver cancer is suspected during the initial screening, the doctor will recommend some additional tests to confirm cancer:
- Blood test: The doctor will check for a protein called alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) which is commonly observed in liver tumours. A high level of AFP indicates a presence of a tumour.
- Imaging tests: Various imaging tests such as CT scans, and MRIs will be performed to gauge the size, location, and stage of the tumour.
- Biopsy: The doctor will extract a small tissue from the area and examine for the presence of cancer cells.
The treatment strategy for liver cancer depends on the stage and type of cancer, age, and overall health of the patient. Surgery is usually the mainstay of the treatment. It may be combined with chemotherapy and radiation therapy for better outcomes.
- Surgery: Surgery is the mainstay of liver cancer. The doctor will either partially or completely remove the liver depending on the cancer stage. If complete removal of the liver is required, this will be followed by liver transplant surgery.
- Ablation: Ablation is another option for liver cancer. It is recommended for patients with small tumours. In this procedure, frozen gases or radiations will be administered to kill tumour cells.
- Embolisation therapy: Tumour cells also require oxygen to survive. In this procedure, specific chemicals are injected into the liver artery to restrict blood flow to the tumour.
- Radiation therapy: High energy X-rays will be used to destroy cancer cells. These radiations may be administered before or after the surgery depending on the patient’s condition.
- Chemotherapy: High doses of anti-cancer drugs will be administered to destroy cancer cells. In some cases, chemotherapy is combined with radiation therapy to remove cells from the body.
- Targeted therapy: Certain drugs will also be administered to target specific cancer cells. This therapy is reserved for advanced cancer.