Liver cancer also called primary hepatic cancer, hepatic cancer, or primary hepatic malignancy, is a cancer that originates in the liver. This tumour occurs when there is abnormal proliferation of liver cells.
The liver is a large organ present in the digestive system in the human body. It is found just below the rib cage on the right side of the abdomen. The liver functions include eliminating toxins from the blood circulation, controlling blood sugar levels, managing clotting of blood, and performing many other vital functions.
A tumour in the liver is an uncontrolled growth of unhealthy cells that form a mass. It can either be benign or malignant.
Primary liver cancer is a malignant type of tumour. Primary cancers refer to the original organs or tissues from where the cancer starts to develop.
There are different types of cancer pertaining to the liver:
- Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) or hepatoma: It is a regular type of primary liver cancer and it starts from the hepatocytes.
- Cholangiocarcinoma or bile duct cancer: This cancer develops in the cells lining the bile ducts.
- Liver angiosarcoma: It is a rare, fatal type of cancer. It originates from the endothelial that lines the blood vessels of the liver.
- Hepatoblastoma: It is an uncommon childhood cancer.Secondary liver cancer is when a cancer that began in another part of the body has metastasized to the liver.
Liver cancer symptoms mostly appear as the cancer increases or enters in its advanced stage. Symptoms may include:
When to visit a doctor?
Meet your general physician if you experience any unexplained symptoms that are bothering you. The doctor may recommend a few diagnostic tests to check for other health conditions and also for liver cancer. If the cancer is confirmed, you will be referred to an oncologist or gastroenterologist for further liver cancer treatment.
Causes and Risk Factors
DNA mutations disturb the natural process of cell division giving rise to abnormal multiplication of the cells and eventually forms a malignant tumour.
The risk factors responsible for inducing primary liver cancer are:
- Chronic viral infections including Hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV) are the main cause of liver cancer.
- Alcohol-induced liver cirrhosis
- Aflatoxin exposure can lead to the development of Hepatocellular carcinoma, HCC.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or genetic disorders such as haemochromatosis, or alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency.
- Type 2 diabetes
- Tobacco smoking
- Exposure to certain chemicals
- High alcohol consumption
- Reduce drinking alcohol
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Get hepatitis B vaccination
- Take precautions to prevent Hepatitis C infection
The various tests to diagnose liver cancer are as follows:
- Blood test: It includes liver function tests (LFT) that gives information about the state of the liver. Serum AFP level estimation, Viral screening such as HBsAg and HCV testing are important tests.
- Ultrasound scan: The ultrasound scan or USG scan uses high-frequency sound waves to generate images of the internal body structures of the body. This scan can help to know liver abnormalities.
- Computed tomography or CT scan: A CT scan is a x-rays test is used to determine if liver cancer has spread to other organs of the body.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI scans are useful to inspect liver tumours. At times they can differentiate between a benign tumour from a malignant one. An MRI scan can examine blockages in the blood vessels surrounding the liver, and to diagnose liver metastases.
- Liver biopsy: In biopsy test a small liver tissue is removed for laboratory testing in order to diagnose liver tumour.
- Surgery: Surgery is suitable for a few patients with liver tumours and its success depends on a number of factors like the size, number and position of the tumours.Surgical procedure includes removing a portion of the liver, known as partial hepatectomy or a liver transplant surgery.
- Tumour ablation: Tumour ablation is a minimally invasive technique most commonly used in the treatment of small primary liver cancers. Rarely, it is used to treat secondary cancer in the liver.The tumour ablation treatments include radio waves and microwaves to heat and kill cancer cells. This therapy is performed by either a needle inserted through the skin (percutaneous ablation) or a surgical incision (ablation with surgery). The uncommon methods include alcohol injection and cryotherapy.
- Targeted drug therapy: Targeted drug treatments for liver cancer destroy cancer cells while avoiding healthy cells.Sorafinib, Lenvatinib are drugs that target tumour blood vessels. They are used advanced liver cancer or when surgery is not an option. These targeted therapy drugs are unique in that they won't have the side effects similar to that of chemotherapy.
- Immunotherapy: They stimulate our immune cells to recognise and kill the cancer cells. They are the latest treatment developments in liver cancer. Immunotherapy treatments are preferred for patients with advanced liver cancer. They are very effective in liver cancer.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy is used in advanced liver cancer, and it helps to control symptoms.
- Supportive (palliative) care: Palliative care aims at providing relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious disease. If is a part of treatment in advanced liver cancer.
Care at Medicover Hospitals
At Medicover Hospitals, we have the most trusted team of oncologists, gastroenterologists, hepatologists working together to provide excellent healthcare services to our patients. Our medical team adopts a comprehensive approach for treating liver cancer and its related complications with the active participation of medical experts from different specialties. For liver cancer, we analyse the stage of the cancer and design a treatment pathway that is the best suited as per the patient’s specific condition. We provide world-class medical care services to the patients at affordable costs in all our departments providing high-quality treatment outcomes and satisfactory experiences.