Liver cancer, as the name suggests, is cancer that begins in the liver. Some cancers grow outside the liver and spread to the organ. But this term only describes cancer that begins in the liver. The liver is located under the right lung, just below the rib cage. It is one of the largest organs in the human body and it has many essential functions including the removal of toxins from the body. In this article, we explain the symptoms of liver cancer, its evolution and the risk factors that can contribute to the occurrence of this cancer. We also explain the best ways to avoid the disease.
Liver Cancer Symptoms
A person with liver cancer may experience abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue.
Symptoms of liver cancer usually do not appear until the disease reaches an advanced stage.
Liver cancer can cause the following symptoms:
– jaundice, where the skin and eyes turn yellow
– abdominal pain
– pain near the right shoulder blade
– unexplained weight loss
– an enlarged liver, spleen or both
– abdominal swelling or fluid accumulation
– back pain
– a feeling of fullness after a small meal
Liver cancer can also cause swelling of visible veins under the abdominal skin, as well as bruising and bleeding.
It can also lead to high calcium and cholesterol levels and low blood sugar.
The different stages of liver cancer
To help guide treatment and outline the outlook for liver cancer, doctors divide its progression into four stages:
Stage 1: The tumor remains in the liver and has not spread to any other organ or location.
2: Either there are several small tumors all remaining in the liver, or one tumor has reached a blood vessel.
3: There are several large tumors or one tumor that has reached a large main blood vessel.
4: The cancer has metastasized, that is, it has spread to other parts of the body.
Once a doctor has diagnosed and identified the stage of the cancer, treatment begins.
The main causes of liver cancer
Doctors do not yet know the exact causes of liver cancer. However, most liver cancers are linked to cirrhosis. Chronic infections with hepatitis B or C viruses are very common causes of liver cancer. People with either type of virus have a significantly higher risk of developing liver cancer than other healthy people. Because both forms can lead to cirrhosis.
Some inherited liver diseases, such as hemochromatosis, cause cirrhosis and also increase the risk of liver cancer.
Other risk factors for developing liver cancer include:
– Type 2 diabetes
People with diabetes, especially if they also have hepatitis or regularly drink a lot of alcohol, are more likely to develop liver cancer.
– Family history
If a person’s mother, father, brother or sister has had liver cancer, they have a higher risk of developing the disease themselves.
– Heavy alcohol consumption
Consuming more than six alcoholic beverages a day for a prolonged period can lead to cirrhosis. This, in turn, increases the risk of liver cancer.
– Long-term exposure to aflatoxins
A particular fungus creates a substance called aflatoxin. When molds grow on the following crops, they can lead to the presence of aflatoxins:
The risk of liver cancer increases only after long-term exposure to aflatoxins. These substances are of less concern in industrialized countries where manufacturers routinely test for aflatoxins.
– Low immunity
People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV, have a five times higher risk of liver cancer than other healthy people.
Obesity increases the risk of developing many cancers. In people who later develop liver cancer, obesity can contribute to cirrhosis and fatty liver disease.
about three times as many men as women are diagnosed with liver cancer.
Former smokers and current smokers have a higher risk of liver cancer than people who have never smoked.
Who should be screened for liver cancer as a priority?
People who are at high risk for liver cancer should be screened regularly. These include people who have:
– hepatitis B or C
– alcohol-related cirrhosis
– cirrhosis due to hemochromatosis, a disease that involves deposits of iron salts in body tissues
Liver cancer becomes very difficult to cure if a doctor diagnoses it at a later stage.
Screening is the only effective way to detect liver cancer at an early stage, because symptoms of early-stage liver cancer are either subtle or non-existent.
Outlook: the sooner the better
The outlook for liver cancer is poor. People often identify liver cancer at a late stage.
Before liver cancer spreads from its original site, the 5-year survival rate is 31%. This means that 31% of people who doctors diagnose with liver cancer will survive at least five years after diagnosis.
Once the cancer spreads to nearby tissues, the survival rate decreases to 11%. At a more advanced stage, when liver cancer spreads to distant organs, this rate drops to 2%. This is why regular screening of people at high risk for liver cancer is so important.
Treatment for liver cancer often involves intensive surgery with a high risk of complications. This can further affect a person’s outlook for liver cancer.
How to prevent the occurrence of liver cancer
Liver cancer has a low survival rate compared to some other cancers. However, people can reduce their risk of getting the disease. They can also improve their chances of early detection.
There is no way to completely prevent liver cancer, but the following steps can help reduce the risk.
1 Moderate alcohol consumption
Regular and prolonged consumption of large amounts of alcohol greatly increases the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Moderation or abstention from alcohol consumption can significantly reduce the risk of developing liver cancer.
2 Limit tobacco consumption
It may help prevent liver cancer, especially in people with hepatitis B and C.
3 Get vaccinated against hepatitis B
The following people should consider getting the hepatitis vaccine:
– drug addicts who share needles
-people who have unprotected sex with multiple partners
nurses, doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals whose work increases the risk of hepatitis B infection
– those who frequently travel to areas of the world where hepatitis B is common
There is no sure way to prevent hepatitis C or vaccination against the virus. However, using a condom during sex can help reduce the risk of infection.
4 Maintain a healthy body weight
Obesity is a risk factor, as fatty liver and cirrhosis can lead to liver cancer and diabetes. Taking care of your physical health and maintaining a moderate body weight can help reduce the risk of liver cancer.
5 Treat underlying conditions
Certain other diseases can lead to liver cancer, such as diabetes and hemochromatosis. Treating these conditions before they turn into liver cancer can reduce the risk of complications.
Can liver cancer be prevented? (2019).
Liver cancer risk factors. (2019).
Liver cancer survival rates. (2019).