The liver is one of the largest organs in the body that works like a chemical factory indispensable for life. Your liver helps clean your blood, digest food and store sugar that your body uses for energy. It is responsible for processing all the nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) absorbed from the gut.
Some of the liver vital functions include filtering the blood as it passes through the body, producing bile to break down and digest fats, storing glycogen or sugar to later be used for energy, producing essential proteins such as albumin that transport important elements in the blood, and manufacturing clotting factors to allow the blood to coagulate.
Types of Primary Liver Cancer
Primary means the cancer starts in your liver. When malignant cells form within the liver, one of two forms of primary liver cancer can develop depending on the cells where the cancer originates:
- Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC) is the most common and occurs in 90% of the cases
- Intrahepatic Cholangiocarcinoma, a rarer form of cancer that develops within the bile ducts both inside and outside
The incidence of primary liver cancer has been steadily increasing over the past few decades mostly due to the rise in the hepatitis viral infection and the occurrence of obesity especially in the United States. Unlike most other cancers, liver cancer is two diseases in one; the cancer cells generally form in a diseased liver (cirrhosis) which is caused by a chronic inflammation due to a hepatitis B or C, obesity or chronic alcohol ingestion.
What Are Its Symptoms?
Identifying the early signs of liver cancer can be difficult as symptoms do not typically become apparent until later stages, which explains why most patients are diagnosed at later stages making curative intervention difficult. To make matters worse, when symptoms are present, they are generally non-specific, making them difficult to relate to liver cancer as the primary cause.
Some common symptoms include:
- A hard lump or discomfort in the right side of your abdomen, below the rib cage
- Jaundice – when the skin or whites of the eyes develop a yellow tint
- Loss of appetite and weight loss without reason
- Extreme tiredness or weakness
- Pale bowel movements or dark urine
While experiencing any one of these symptoms does not automatically mean that a person has primary liver cancer, they can still be the result of a number of medical issues. Any sudden change to your normal state of health should always prompt a consultation with a doctor.
How Is Liver Cancer Diagnosed?
A physical examination and blood work, especially laboratory testing of the function of the liver through a simple blood test should provide evidence confirming or ruling out the diagnosis of liver cancer. Such tests include:
- Physical examination – This is performed by the doctor examining carefully the abdomen, and the body as a whole, looking for subtle signs indicating the presence of liver cancer. A thorough medical history is also obtained at that time.
- CT scan or MRI – Both scans take multiple pictures of the body at different angles. A dye is often injected through a vein in the forearm to help identify subtle areas of abnormalities in the body especially the liver. Primary liver tumors demonstrate characteristic imaging features that could also help establish a definitive diagnosis.
- Serum tumor markers – Tumors can secrete abnormal proteins that can be identified in a blood sample. Such proteins are known as tumor markers and when present can help identify the tumor type. In the case of primary liver cancer, a higher than normal amount of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) in the blood is generally diagnostic of liver cancer.
- Biopsy – Sometimes it is necessary to obtain some tissue within the region of interest to make sure that what is being seen on a CT or MRI scan is indeed a malignant tumor. If the blood test (above) is unhelpful, then sometimes a tissue biopsy will be required to confirm the diagnosis of liver cancer. The analysis of the tissue can also help guide therapy by selecting the most appropriate drugs available.
How Is Liver Cancer Treated?
Treatment decisions are made by a team of specialists in liver cancer based on treatment guidelines, stage of the disease and status of the patient’s general health. Commonly used treatments include:
- Surgery to remove the tumor or part of the liver
- Liver transplant that replaces the entire liver organ with a new one
- Chemotherapy or radiation to reduce the size of the tumor and stop the cancer cells from developing
- Targeted therapy
- Embolization therapy that exploits the unique blood supply of the liver to precisely kill tumors inside the liver
In the fight against cancer, you are never alone at USA Oncology Centers. From diagnosis to treatment to after recovery, you are surrounded by a team of highly skilled professionals in state-of-the-art facilities. As part of your multidisciplinary team, we can provide non-surgical and minimally invasive procedures performed by highly skilled and nationally recognized interventional radiologists. We offer newer precision treatment approaches for primary and metastasized liver cancer that offer promise and a better quality of life.
We specialize in targeted non-surgical and minimally invasive procedures that help improve a patient’s overall survival without the cancer progressing and improve their quality of life. We work closely with our patient’s multidisciplinary team to provide the most advanced treatment options available within a single network of coordinated care.
- Increases the time to progression
- Extends overall survival
- Potentially stops liver tumors from growing or causes them to shrink.
Whether you have questions about your current cancer regimen, or want to learn more about our targeted, non -surgical, office-based liver cancer treatments, we are here to answer your questions.
To learn more, simply schedule an appointment online or call 888.773-2193. Once you schedule your appointment, you will meet with one of our oncology specialists who will evaluate your condition and offer the best treatment option. Our staff will be available throughout the procedure and recovery process to answer all your questions.
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