Liver cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide (over 600,000), although it is much more common in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. It is also much more common in men than in women. According to the American Cancer Society’s estimated statistics, in the United States, just under 48,000 people were diagnosed with, and nearly 29,000 died from liver cancer in 2017.
Causes of Liver Cancer
The exact cause of liver cancer is only partially understood, but several risk factors are known:
- Chronic viral hepatitis- Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C
- Heavy alcohol use
- Gender (higher in males)
- Race (higher in Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, in the United States)
- Anabolic steroids
Symptoms of Liver Cancer
The most common symptoms of liver cancer include
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling very full after eating a small meal
- Enlarged liver (a large mass under the ribs on the right side)
- Pain or Swelling in the abdomen
Diagnosis of Liver Cancer
- Medical history and physical exam
- Imaging tests
- Lab tests
Staging of Liver Cancer
The diagnostic tests not only help in making the diagnosis but also in determining the stage of cancer (how far the cancer has spread).
Stage I: Cancer is a single tumor that has not grown into blood vessels or spread to nearby lymph nodes or distant sites.
Stage II: Cancer is either a single tumor that has not grown into blood vessels or more than one tumor but none or larger than 5 cm. It has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or distant sites.
Stage III: Cancer is more than one tumor and at least one is larger than 5 cm. OR at least one tumor has grown into a major branch of a large vein of the liver. It has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or distant sites.
Stage IV: Cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes OR to distant sites (bones, lungs).
Treatment of Liver Cancer
Before beginning any treatment, your doctor will consider the stage of the cancer and the health of the rest of your liver. Treatments options include the following:
- Surgery to part of the liver
- Tumor embolization
- Radiation therapy
- Liver transplant
Prevention of Liver Cancer
Many times liver cancer can be avoided by reducing exposure to the known risk factors.