The liver is one of the most important organs in the body. The liver is divided into lobes and acts as a filter, cleansing the blood of harmful substances that are later passed out of the body as waste. The liver also makes bile, which helps digest fat, makes numerous proteins used by the body for many things, and stores glycogen (sugar), which provides the body with energy.
Liver cancer is one of the most common types of cancers. It begins in the liver which is located in the upper right section of the abdomen below the diaphragm. The most common form of this cancer is formed in the major liver cells which are the hepatocytes. Therefore, this disease is called hepatocellular carcinoma. Liver cancer appears to affect mainly Africans and Asians in comparison to Caucasians.
Primary liver cancer is a condition that happens when normal cells in the liver become abnormal in appearance and behavior. The cancer cells can then become destructive to adjacent normal tissues, and can spread both to other areas of the liver and to organs outside the liver.
Malignant or cancerous cells that develop in the normal cells of the liver (hepatocytes) are called hepatocellular carcinoma. A cancer that arises in the ducts of the liver is called cholangiocarcinoma.
RISK FACTORS FOR LIVER CANCER
Some risk factors for liver cancer are:
- Other liver diseases, including hepatitis B or C (viral diseases that attack the liver) or cirrhosis (a disease that causes scarring)
- A family history of hepatitis or liver cancer (someone in your family has it)
- Gender (men are more likely to get liver cancer than women are)
LIVER CANCER FACTS
- Most people who get liver cancer (hepatic cancer) get it in the setting of chronic liver disease.
- Incidence rates of hepatocellular cancer are rising in the United States due to increasing prevalence of cirrhosis caused by chronic hepatitis C and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- There are many treatment alternatives for liver cancer. The treatment chosen depends upon how much the cancer has spread and the general health of the liver and the overall health of the patient.
STAGES OF LIVER CANCER
|Liver cancer stages|
Doctors use a process called “staging” to determine and explain how much a cancer has spread and the associated possibilities of surgery to control its effects. Stages are numbered from 1 through 4(I to IV). The following are the stages of liver cancer.
- Stage I: A single tumor found in the liver.
- Stage II: A single tumor found but has spread to the blood vessels or there are multiple tumors smaller than 5cm.
- Stage III:More than one tumor present that is larger than 5cm or the cancer has spread to other sections of the body such as the blood vessels, lymph nodes or another organ.
- Stage IV:The cancer has now spread to several other parts of the body such as in the bones, blood vessels, or lungs.
CAUSES OF LIVER CANCER
Most people who get liver cancer get it in the setting of chronic liver disease (long-term liver damage called cirrhosis), which scars the liver and increases the risk for liver cancer. Conditions that cause cirrhosis are alcohol use/abuse, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
The causes of liver cancer may be linked to environmental, dietary, or lifestyle factors. For example, in Nov. 2014, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, found that long-term exposure to triclosan, a common ingredient in soaps and detergents, causes liver fibrosis and cancer in laboratory mice. Although triclosan has not been proven to cause human liver cancer, it is currently under scrutiny by the FDA to determine whether it has negative health impacts
LIVER CANCER TREATED
Liver cancer may be treated using one or more of three methods: surgery, chemotherapy, and percutaneous ethanol injection.
Certain factors can affect treatment and prognosis (chance of recovery) for a person with liver cancer. These factors include the person’s general health, the way that the liver itself is functioning, the stage of the cancer, and the levels of alpha-fetoprotein.
- Radiofrequency ablation: using a probe with electrodes that kills cancerous tissue
- Partial hepatectomy: removing part of the liver, ranging from a smaller wedge to an entire lobe
- Total hepatectomy and liver transplant: removing the whole liver and replacing it with one from an organ donor
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells or to prevent them from reproducing. Chemotherapy may be systemic (pills or injections that travel through the entire body).
Another type of chemotherapy for liver cancer is known as chemoembolization of the hepatic artery, in which the chemotherapy drug is combined with another substance to block the artery. The purpose of this therapy is to starve the tumor of blood in order to kill it, and to apply chemotherapy directly to the tumor. The liver’s blood flow is maintained by the hepatic portal vein.
Percutaneous ethanol injection
This therapy involves an injection of ethanol (alcohol) into a tumor to destroy the cancer. This therapy is not used very often.
SYMPTOMS OF LIVER CANCER IN WOMEN
As it is for men, the symptoms of liver cancer in women usually only become evident when the disease is already in the advanced stage. Some symptoms that may appear more notably in women include the following:
- Bloating or fullness in the abdomen
- Pain in the right shoulder
- Swollen abdomen
- Stomach cramps
- Changes in appetite
- Undue weight loss
It is important to note that some of these symptoms are often confused with signs of PMS or pregnancy. One or two may also be signs of ovarian cancer.
LIVING WITH LIVER CANCER
Being diagnosed with a critical illness is a difficult thing for anyone to bear. Nevertheless, each person will find his or her own way to cope with liver cancer. While there are no fix-all solutions, there are some suggestions that may help.
Ways Might Help
How To Do It Or How It'll Help
Know your cancer
Find out as much as you can about your liver cancer. Speak with your doctor about the stage, treatment options and prognosis of your condition. The more you know the more confident you may feel about making informed decisions for treatment.
Seek help from friends and family
Your friends and family are going to be a much needed support system as you go through this phase in your life. They can provide practical and emotional help such as taking care of your affairs in your absence or being a shoulder to lean on when you’re feeling low. You may also find it helpful to speak with a professional counselor or to join a support group for cancer survivors.
Keep a healthy weight
Try to maintain a healthy weight. You can do this by eating a healthy diet and sticking to an exercise regimen throughout the week. Lower the amount of calories you consume every day. Make an effort to lose weight at a very slow pace each week such as between one or two pounds.
Cope with the pain
If you want to avoid the side effects of pain medication or require more help to deal with pain, you may speak with your doctor about alternate methods to manage your pain. These include but not limited to: music therapy, acupuncture, deep breathing, massage and acupressure.
Having an illness that is potentially life threatening can inevitably bring you closer to facing your mortality. Consider making a living will and any other directives that may become necessary in the event of your death.