Liver cancer


Abdomen | Gastroenterology | Liver cancer (Disease)


Description

Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) is a cancer arising from the liver. It is also known as primary liver cancer or hepatoma. The liver is made up of different cell types (for example, bile ducts, blood vessels, and fat-storing cells). However, liver cells (hepatocytes) make up 80% of the liver tissue. Thus, the majority of primary liver cancers (over 90%-95%) arises from liver cells and is called hepatocellular cancer or carcinoma.

Causes and Risk factors

A cancerous tumour starts from one abnormal cell. The exact reason why a cell becomes cancerous is unclear. It is thought that something damages or alters certain genes in the cell. Although the cause is not known, some risk factors that may lead to liver cancer are: cirrhosis; long-term infection with the hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus; ingesting some poisons or toxins; ulcerative colitis; smoking; a parasitic infection (liver fluke) which mainly occurs in Africa and Asia.

When patients or physicians speak of liver cancer, however, they are often referring to cancer that has spread to the liver, having originated in other organs (such as the colon, stomach, pancreas, breast, and lung). More specifically, this type of liver cancer is called metastatic liver disease (cancer) or secondary liver cancer. This is a much more common problem around the world than primary liver cancer and frequently leads to confusion, because the term liver cancer actually can refer to either metastatic liver cancer or hepatocellular cancer.

Diagnosis and Treatment

When the cancer has spread to the liver and other organs, whole-body (systemic) chemotherapy is usually used. The type of chemotherapy is determined by theoriginal type of cancer.

When the spread is limited to the liver, body-wide chemotherapy may still be used. However, other treatment methods may work. When the tumor is only in one or a few areas of the liver, the cancer may be removed with surgery.

The use of radiofrequency waves or injection of toxic substances may also be used to kill tumors. When larger areas of the liver are involved, treatment may involve giving chemotherapy directly into the liver, or a procedure called embolization, which blocks blood flow to parts of the liver to starve the tumor cells. ...