Liver cancer is one of the deadliest cancers.
If you are reading this article, chances are you already know that liver cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer. It is also one of the most common types of cancer worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, there are approximately 841,000 new cases of liver cancer diagnosed each year.
Liver cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death world wide.
In this article, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of liver cancer.
Causes of Liver Cancer?
The exact reason why a person gets liver cancer remains unknown. However, it has been linked with certain factors such as:
Genetic predisposition – Certain genes are associated with an increased risk of developing liver cancer.
These include mutations in the hepatocyte nuclear factor 1 alpha gene, leading to familial adenomatous polyposis syndrome or hereditary hemochromatosis. Also, people who inherit defective copies of the p53 tumor suppressor gene from their parents are at higher risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma.
Tobacco use – Tobacco smoking increases your chance of getting liver cirrhosis, which can eventually progress into liver cancer. In addition, tobacco smoke contains nitrosamines that damage DNA and increase the risk of developing liver cancer. Other studies suggest that alcohol consumption plays a role in causing liver cancer. Alcoholic beverages contain acetaldehyde, which damages cells by forming protein cross-links between proteins. This process leads to cell membrane defects and ultimately results in cell death.
Exposure to toxins/drugs – Some drugs used to treat hepatitis B virus infection and other chronic diseases like diabetes mellitus and hypertension may trigger the development of liver cancer.
Symptoms of Liver Cancer?
Although many patients do not experience any noticeable symptoms until advanced stages of the disease, some early signs of liver cancer might include:
Abdominal pain – Abdominal pain could indicate inflammation of the gallbladder or bile ducts. If these organs become inflamed, they release enzymes into the bloodstream. The presence of elevated levels of bilirubin in blood indicates blockage of the biliary tract. A doctor should examine a patient’s abdomen carefully if they complain about abdominal discomfort.
Jaundice – Jaundice refers to yellowing of the skin due to the accumulation of excessive amounts of pigment in body tissues. People often notice a jaundiced appearance when they get too much sunlight during the summer months. As mentioned earlier, the liver produces bile acids and stores them within its cells. When the liver becomes damaged, it releases more than the average amount of bile acid into circulation. Excess bile acid accumulates in the bloodstream and turns the yellowish skin color.
Nausea & vomiting – Nausea and vomiting occur because of excessive production of gastric juices.
Gastrointestinal problems are usually accompanied by nausea and vomiting.
Weight loss – Weight loss occurs when the stomach does not receive enough nutrients through food intake. Patients lose weight even though they eat less compared to the usual diet.
Fatigue – Fatigue means feeling tired all day long. Most likely, fatigue comes from poor nutrition.
Diagnosis of Liver Cancer?
There is no single test available to diagnose liver cancer. Instead, doctors perform several tests, including physical examination, imaging techniques, laboratory analysis, biopsy, etc. Imaging methods such as CT scan, MRI scan, PET scans, endoscopy, laparoscopy, colonoscopy, angiography, ultrasonography, etc., help physicians determine whether there is malignant growth present inside the liver. Biopsies are performed on suspicious areas identified using imaging tools. Blood samples are taken to check for specific biomarkers.
Treatment Options for Liver Cancer?
Surgery – Surgery is one of the most effective treatment options for liver cancers. It removes tumors completely along with surrounding healthy tissue. However, this option is suitable only for small tumors located near major blood vessels. For larger tumors, surgery will result in significant bleeding and scarring of the liver.
Radiation therapy – Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to destroy tumor cells. Although radiation therapy has shown promising outcomes against primary liver cancers, it cannot cure metastatic lesions. Therefore, radiation therapy alone is generally ineffective for treating late-stage liver cancer.
Chemotherapy – Chemotherapeutic agents kill rapidly dividing cells. They work best on fast-growing tumors. Unfortunately, chemotherapy also destroys healthy cells. Thus, it causes severe side effects and reduces the quality of life.
Targeted Therapy – Targeted therapies focus on specific molecules involved in the progression of cancer.