What is liver cancer?
Liver cancer arises in liver cells in one region and grows rapidly to spread to other organs. It is one of the most life-threatening diseases. Liver cancer is usually divided into two types: primary and secondary liver cancer.
Primary liver cancer is the type which originates primarily in the liver whereas secondary liver cancer spreads from other organs to the liver and forms a tumour.
It is normally hard to difficult to identify liver cancer as it does not have any distinct symptoms but if detected at an early stage, treatment is possible. Liver cancer treatment may vary from surgery, transplant, or removal of a part of the liver to chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
There are different medical procedures that can be done to treat liver cancer depending on the condition of the patient.
Liver cancer is the third most common cancer that causes the death of a patient. Liver cancer is more common in men than in women. The cause may vary from person to person but usually excessive alcohol drinking, chronic liver infections, having a family history of liver cancer or exposure to radiation are the most common causes.
Common symptoms of liver cancer
Most people do not experience any signs or symptoms in the early stage of liver cancer. At an advanced stage, symptoms of liver cancer may look like this:
Even after eating a regular diet, if a person starts to lose weight, then it could be a sign of liver cancer. Normally, in every cancer a patient loses weight as the energy gained from food is being used up by cancerous cells to grow.
Lump on the right side under the ribcage:
The liver is situated under the ribcage on the right side of the body. The feeling of a lump in that region could be a symptom of liver cancer. A lump is the solid mass of cancerous cells also known as a tumour. This lump can be identified by different diagnostic tests.
It is common to experience nausea and feeling of vomiting if a person is suffering from liver cancer. It is one of the most common symptoms of liver cancer. Even in other cancers like stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer or colorectal cancer, a feeling of nausea is often seen.
Yellowing of skin and eyes:
As the function of the liver is hindered by the tumour, one of the symptoms of liver cancer is jaundice. Jaundice causes yellowing of the skin and eyes. When a person has jaundice, the colour of their urine becomes darker, and the colour of their stool becomes lighter.
Loss of appetite:
Due to the tumour, a patient with liver cancer usually has a feeling of being full which eventually leads to the next symptom of liver cancer which is loss of appetite.
As the tumour in the liver grows, the abdomen starts to swell from the right side. The tumour gets bigger with growing cancerous cells causing the abdomen to look swelled up.
Due to swelling of the abdomen as the tumour grows, it begins to push nearby organs and cause pain in the abdomen. Pain is also the most common symptom of liver cancer. Due to the growth of liver cancer, pain becomes severe over time.
Fatigue and weakness are the most common symptoms of cancer. Not only liver cancer but mostly every type of cancer causes the symptom of weakness in the body of a patient. As the energy is being used by cancerous cells in the body, the feeling of fatigue is ordinary in cancer.
Liver cancer grows on the right side of the body and as the tumour gets bigger it causes the feeling of fullness. Even after having a small meal, a patient with liver cancer may feel like they are full and eventually lose their appetite.
One of the symptoms of liver cancer is an enlarged spleen. Many white blood cells get accumulated in the spleen, which is near the liver, to attack the cancerous cells and kill them. This led to the enlargement of the spleen.
All these symptoms are common in other diseases as well, hence it is difficult to identify liver cancer on the basis of these symptoms. But if a person notices one or two symptoms of liver cancer, they must advise a doctor for a diagnosis.
Apart from the symptoms of liver cancer mentioned above, there are several other issues related to liver cancer. Liver cancer increases the rate of production of hormones in the body, which eventually leads to functional disturbance in the other organs, such as:
- An increase in calcium release in the blood induces nausea, weakness, constipation and other muscle contraction problems.
- Decreased blood glucose level which causes fatigue.
- Increase in the size of the breasts in females and a decrease in the size of the testis in males.
- Increased red blood cells make a patient appear reddish.
- Increased cholesterol levels.
These complications may vary from person to person.
After the symptoms of liver cancer have been identified, a doctor prescribes diagnostic tests to obtain necessary information about liver cancer. Diagnostic tests assist the doctor to plan treatment for better results depending on the stage of liver cancer. Some of the diagnostic tests for liver cancer are:
- AFP test – The doctor may test for Alfa-fetoprotein in the blood, which indicates liver cancer if their levels are high. Apart from that liver function tests are also used to check for certain enzymes and proteins to identify liver cancer.
- CT scan – Most commonly used method to detect any type of cancer is a CT scan. It provides a detailed image of the organ and helps the doctor identify cancer and its size.
- MRI – Magnetic resonance imaging is also an image-based test used to get information about cancer. It offers a clear image of the body using magnetic waves and a computer.
- Angiogram – Angiogram is a test that observes the blood vessels in the body. This technique uses a dye to track the blood vessels and look for blockages. It helps the doctor to identify the location of the tumour.
- Biopsy – One of the most common and reliable diagnostic tests for cancer is a biopsy. In this process, a small piece of the tumour is obtained to examine it under a microscope and determine the cancer and its stage.
Stages of liver cancer
There are 4 stages of liver cancer that a doctor, uses to assign the growth of cancer. The stages of liver cancer are:
- Stage I
The tumour is minute, and the size of the tumour is less than 2 centimetres.
- Stage II
The tumour has grown and is around 5 centimetres in size and it may spread to blood vessels in the liver.
- Stage III
The tumour has spread to other regions of the liver and has increased in size.
- Stage IV
Cancer has spread to other organs such as lungs, bones or lymph nodes.
When to visit a doctor?
If you have more than 2 symptoms of liver cancer, immediately consult a doctor. The confirmed diagnosis of liver cancer can only be done by diagnostic tests, so it is advised not to take any medicine on your own and consult a doctor.