is liver cancer?
Liver cancer is a malignant tumour in the liver that may be primary (originating
in the liver tissue itself) or secondary (having spread from another part of
the body). The liver's role is to filter toxins and other wastes from the blood,
and convert nutrients into ready-to-use chemicals. However, when cancer strikes
here the liver does not have the ability to cleanse itself of it.
Men are twice as likely to be affected by liver cancer than women.
What are the different types of liver cancer?
There are two main types of primary liver cancer.
- Hepatoma, which develops in the liver cells
- Cholangiocarcinoma, which develops in the cells lining the bile ducts within
Hepatomas are the most common liver cancers worldwide and are closely linked
to infection with hepatitis B. These tumours are much more common in Africa,
the Middle East and the Far East than in Europe and America. Hepatoma is quite
rare in Ireland.
Secondary liver cancers are about twenty times more common in Ireland than
primary liver cancers. Secondary liver cancers may arise from primary cancers
in many different organs but the most likely sources are the stomach, pancreas,
colon and rectum.
causes liver cancer?
Hepatomas (primary liver cancers) are likely to arise when viral infections
(particularly hepatitis B) have already affected the liver.
The causes of secondary liver cancers depend on the cause of the primary tumour.
are the symptoms of liver cancer?
In the early stages, liver cancer often has no symptoms. However when symptoms
emerge, they usually include:
- Weight loss and loss of appetite, nausea.
- Pain in the upper abdomen.
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).
- Irritated and itching skin.
- Malaise (the general feeling of being unwell)
- Oedema, (fluid swelling) in the legs
- Fever, vomiting, fatigue and weakness.
will the doctor look for?
In diagnosing liver cancer, your doctor must rule out other symptoms, which
mimic those of liver cancer.
- He/she will require your medical and family medical history. Illnesses such
as hepatitis, haemochromatosis, cirrhosis and alcoholism should be reported.
- Blood tests and scans (ultrasound, CT or MRI scans) will help in making
- The doctor may require a needle biopsy of the liver, where tissue from the
organ is taken for examination. This is the only way to differentiate a benign
(non-cancerous) tumour from a malignant (cancerous) one.
is liver cancer treated?
A primary liver tumour, hepatoma, usually remains confined to the liver for
a considerable time and removing the tumour may be possible and is usually curative.
If complete removal of the tumour is not possible, chemotherapy (anticancer
drugs) can help the patient survive for longer. Sometimes a liver transplant
may be considered.
Where the liver cancer is a secondary tumour, chemotherapy (anticancer drugs)
will usually improve the patients quality of life and prolong survival.
In some cases, a single secondary tumour in the liver may be surgically removed.
I prevent liver cancer?
You can follow a few simple guidelines, to reduce the risk of liver cancer:
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
- Ensure that you work in a safe environment, compliant with safety regulations.
- If you work in a high risk area, immunise against hepatitis B.
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