Learning About Liver Cancer
Many people do not experience any signs of liver cancer in its earliest stages, which can make it difficult to diagnose until it’s in the advanced stages. Fortunately, there are many treatment options that can help you fight liver cancer once it has been diagnosed.
Liver cancer occurs when the cells in the liver develop mutations (changes) to their DNA. DNA provides directions for every chemical process that occurs in your body. Mutations to DNA change the instructions it provides. As a result, cells may begin to grow and multiply uncontrollably, forming a cancerous tumor.
Several types of cancer can develop in the liver. The most common form of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma. Other types of liver cancer, such as hepatoblastoma and intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma are much less common.
Many individuals do not experience any signs of liver cancer in its earliest stages. Symptoms of liver cancer include upper abdominal pain, fatigue, general weakness, nausea and vomiting, white, chalky stools, loss of appetite, abdominal swelling, unintentional weight loss, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes). Those with liver cancer may also have an enlarged liver or spleen.
Certain factors can increase your risk of developing liver cancer. Chronic infection with hepatitis B virus or hepatitis C virus, diabetes, excessive alcohol consumption, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and certain genetic liver diseases, such as Wilson’s disease and hemochromatosis are all risk factors for liver cancer. Additionally, cirrhosis of the liver also increases your risk of liver cancer. Cirrhosis is a progressive and irreversible condition that causes scar tissue to develop in the liver. Exposure to aflatoxins also increases your risk of developing the disease. Aflatoxins are poisons created by molds that grow on crops that are stored improperly. Regulations in the United States help limit aflatoxin contamination.
Your doctor may order one or more tests to help him determine if you have liver cancer. Blood tests can be used to look for liver abnormalities. Imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, computerized tomography (CT) scans, and ultrasound can be used to look for suspicious areas that may be cancer, to help diagnose cancer, and to help determine how far the cancer has spread. A biopsy is the only definitive way to diagnose cancer. In a biopsy, a small piece of liver tissue is taken. The tissue is sent to a laboratory to determine if it contains cancer cells.
Numerous treatment options exist for liver cancer; however, the options available to you will depend on the type of liver cancer you have as well as what stage the cancer is in.
Surgery: If your liver function is good, and you have a small tumor, you may undergo surgery to have the tumor removed along with a small portion of healthy tissue surrounding it.
Liver transplant surgery is an option for a small number of individuals who have early-stage liver cancer. In a liver transplant, your liver is taken out and replaced with a healthy one from a donor.
Radiofrequency Ablation: In radiofrequency ablation, a small incision is made in your abdomen. A surgeon inserts one or more needles into the incision, and an electric current is applied to the needle, heating up the cancer cells and destroying them.
Cryoablation: During cryoablation, a doctor places a cryoprobe containing liquid nitrogen onto the liver tumor. The cryoprobe freezes the cancer cells and destroys them on contact.
Alcohol Injection: During an alcohol injection, alcohol is injected into the skin or into the tumor directly. Alcohol destroys the tumor cells.
Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy utilizes high-powered energy from protons and x-rays to shrink tumors and destroy cancer cells.
Targeted Drug Therapy: Targeted drugs interfere with a tumor’s specific abnormalities. They are effective in slowing or stopping advanced liver cancer from progressing.
Liver cancer can be difficult to diagnose in its earliest stages because many individuals do not experience any symptoms. Once liver cancer is diagnosed, however, there are many options available to effectively treat it. Which options are available to you will depend on your liver cancer’s specific location, type, and stage.