The liver is considered as one of the biggest organs in a human body – as large as a football and is situated under the right portion of your abdomen beneath the right lung. The main function of the liver is to send bile to the intestines to absorb fats, and store and spread nutrition as per the body needs. It is also responsible to make factors that are responsible for clotting that is to stop bleeding when an injury occurs. It also destroys toxic agents such as drugs and alcohol, after which they are, excreted through urine or feces. Reading till now must have given you the idea as to how important liver is for our body. Thus, when the liver suffers from any problem, our body suffers a lot! Especially, when it is liver cancer, things can get really serious. Here in this article, we discuss the major liver cancer symptoms and other associated details.
Liver Cancer – An Overview
Also known as hepatic cancer, liver cancer is a disease involving inflammation of the liver which takes place when healthy cells in the liver start showing some unusual features and become abnormal. The cancer cells harm the adjoining cell and they tend to spread to other healthy areas of the body. Cancerous cells are also known as malignant cells or hepatocellular carcinoma. Be aware that all cancers affecting the liver may not be liver cancer. Check out for the symptoms of Liver Cancer mentioned below and if you find any then rush to the doctor. Also, do not take extra stress as this disease is curable if you are well informed about the symptoms and take proper treatment on time.
Liver Cancer Facts
- In most cases, liver cancer happens to be a chronic disease – chronic liver disease.
- The number of people affected with liver cancer is rapidly growing because of cirrhosis caused by chronic hepatitis C fatty liver disease (non-alcoholic).
- Many types of treatment for liver cancer are available. The treatment prescribed is according to the extent to which stage cancer has spread and the overall condition of the liver as well as the health of the patient.
- The physician specializing in the treatment of liver cancer is known as an oncologist, one who is certified in oncology.
Liver Cancer Symptoms
Liver cancer itself does not have any symptoms. As the size of cancer becomes larger, you would feel pain on the right side of the belly or you feel full even when you eat a little. The liver cancer symptoms in female are also similar to the male. So, read all the symptoms carefully-.
The patient feels there is weight loss that cannot be accounted for, fall in appetite, nausea, feeling of enlarged liver, feeling of enlarged spleen (you feel a mass under the ribs on the left side), pain in the belly or near the right shoulder blade, increased inflammation in the feel, fluids may build up in the bell, legs are swollen and there is yellowing of the eyes.
- Weight loss – This symptom is found in around 40% of the cancer patients though you’re consuming food normally. Stress level also increases which is an indication of some upcoming problem. The loss of weight can be attributed to falling in appetite, which is one of the early stage symptoms of this disease.
- A bigger liver – The liver becomes enlarged; normally it’s a big organ in the body, therefore, any minor changes in it can be felt. Swelling on the right side below the lower ribs may be indicated due to the enlarged liver. However, there are many conditions that may lead the liver to become bigger than normal.
- Pain on the right side – Pain in the right side is one the important symptoms of liver cancer in the early stage. However, with the passage of time the tumor grows that will make you feel some pressure and pain in the area of the abdomen on the right side. Some patients may also feel the pain on the right shoulder because the liver presses on the nerves beneath the diaphragm linking the shoulder. The pain may be persistent or comes and goes.
- Nausea – Nausea is yet another among liver cancer symptoms in male as well as in female. This is because, as the liver ceases to work normally, it doesn’t filter the toxic byproduct or meta-blocks and such toxic products accumulation leads to sickness and nausea. With progress in time, nausea becomes more severe leading to vomiting and loss of appetite. In some cases, the liver may produce hormones leading to high blood calcium, which may also lead to nausea.
- Swelling – Liver cancer likely cause changes in the blood and lymph capillaries leaking to fluid accumulation resulting in swelling. The accumulation of fluids leads to spread of the cancer cells to the abdominal lining, the cell may put pressure in the veins that drain the liver. They may even block the lymph canals. You should see the doctor immediately to drain the fluid.
- Itching – Among liver cancer symptoms itching is experienced all over the body. Even experts are unsure of why it happens, it could be attributed to the toxins released by the tumor. Itching may be because of bile accumulating in the body and subsides with treatment.
- Yellowing eyes and skin – As the cancer cell obstruct the bile canals, the bile from the liver flows back to the bloodstream instead of the small intestine, which leads the skin and the white color of the eyes to turn into pale yellow. The condition is otherwise known as jaundice may lead to severe itching, dark-colored urine, and light colored feces.
- Appetite loss – You are less inclined to eat food and of course, even a minor amount of stress can lead to loss of appetite. However, the continuous loss of appetite can indicate a problem with the metabolism and the organs adjoining the stomach. In liver cancer, as the liver is bigger than the normal size, it exerts press on the stomach, which leads to a feeling of being full.
- Fatigue and weakness – Similar to the cases of other types of cancer, weakness, and fatigue are often the main signs. Fatigue involves more than being tired – when you get up, you feel restless as if you have worked hard for the whole day. You may feel the fatigue mentally as well as physically.
The most commonly found liver cancer is the hepatocellular carcinoma. Liver cancer could be in metastatic implying cancer spreading to the liver through the bloodstream. Unfortunately, a few people with metastatic cancer do not have symptoms. Thus, cancer cells from the colon could spread to the liver and could exhibit colon cancer liver metastases symptoms.
If you notice one or more symptoms of liver cancer, you should contact the doctor as soon as possible as early diagnosis of this disease can help palliate it.
Liver Cancer Prognosis & Risk Factors
The causes of liver cancer include cirrhosis, chronic infection (HBV or HCV), diabetes, exposure to aflatoxins, and inherited liver diseases. Prognosis for liver cancer would be based on many factors including the size of the liver cancer, the presence of the spread of cancer beyond the liver, the number of the lesions, the health of the adjoining tissues and the overall health of the individual. Life expectancy would depend on several factors making cancer curable or not.
- The overall survival rate for all stages of liver cancer is found to be 15% – so low because in many cases, along with liver cancer the individual may have other medical conditions such as cirrhosis.
- However, if the cancer is localized – just limited to the liver, the five-year survival chance jumps to 28%, if the liver cancer has spread to other organs close to it, the corresponding survival rate is 7%. When the liver cancer migrated to distant organs/tissues, the survival time drops to as low as two years.
- Survival rate also depends on the effect of the treatment available. Liver cancers surgically removed are likely to show a higher five-year survival rate more than 50%. And, if diagnosed at the earliest and the liver transplanted the corresponding rate is 70%.
- The principal cause of death from liver cancer is liver failure, advanced cancer or bleeding.
Liver Cancer – Diagnosis and Stages
Once the patient is diagnosed with liver cancer, the physician will try to check it out whether cancer has proliferated to other organs, if it’s to what extent? This process of identification is known as staging. The stage of cancer implies to what extent the cancer is present in the body. Staging let us know how serious the liver cancer is and what best possible treatment can be carried out. Staging also used to predict survival rates.
Liver cancer varies from stage 1 to stage 4 (Roman numerals are sued) or letters from A to D are used. As the numbers indicate – the lower number implies the cancer is less spread while a higher number like 4 means cancer has spread to more organs/tissues. Likewise, D indicates the advanced stage with the worst prognosis. Each individual’s cancer condition is unique, however, when it comes to staging, cancer has similar stages which bring similar consequences and are treated in the same way.
To Read About Liver Cancer Stages in detail follow the link.
Diagnosis of each stage
- Tests and procedures performed in diagnosing liver cancer include blood tests to check the functionality of the liver.
- Imaging tests are performed (ultrasound, CT scanning or MRI scanning)
- Testing a sample liver tissue: a piece of tissue from the liver is removed for laboratory test and to bring out the diagnosis of liver cancer.
Once liver cancer is diagnosed, the next task for the physician in determining the stage of cancer. Staging tests reveal the extent of cancer and whether it has migrated elsewhere or not For this, imaging such as CTs, MRIs, and bone scans are important.
Can Liver Cancer Be Palliated?
Liver cancer is very hard to palliate. This is because it cannot be diagnosed in an early state. Despite all this, even liver cancer can be palliated and for this, follow-up treatment is important. Treatment of secondary or metastatic liver cancer is difficult because it’s already spread to other organs. In this stage, the liver’s bile and blood vessels’ network makes surgery hard.
Thus, the treatments available for Liver Cancer include surgery, liver transplant, ablation therapy, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, applying targeted agent and immunotherapy. Let us discuss them.
- Surgery: In surgery, part of the liver with cancer is removed. Surgery is useful when the size of the cancer area is small.
- Transplant of the liver: In this procedure, the cancerous liver is replaced with a healthy one from a healthy person. This is done in very rare cases where surgery could not be done.
- Ablation therapy: This procedure involves destroying cancer cells in the liver without the need of surgery. Heat, laser, or a special alcohol or acid injected into cancer may bring the result.
- Radiation therapy: High-energy rays are directed to kill the cancer cells.
However, there are risks of complication such as fatigue, vomiting, and nausea.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy is a safe and popular method of treating liver cancer and other types of cancer through which the immune system of the body is enhanced and strengthened in a natural way. Having no side effects like other cancer treatment methods, this method is becoming very popular all over the world.
Though the symptoms of this disease come into the picture at a later stage it is always advised to take precautions beforehand. Here we are mentioning some of the precautionary measures for you to avoid liver cancer and also to reduce the risk of the same.
- Reduce Alcohol – Drinking alcohol is never appreciated as it will definitely result in some or other disease. Decide a limit while drinking and this suggestion is for both men and women.
- Weight – Check your weight every time and work on maintaining a standard weight as per your age and height. Both being over or underweight is a threat for your body.
- Balanced Diet – Always plan your meals in a healthy manner. Do not eat fast or junk food every now and then. Add fruits and green vegetables in your menu.
- Use of chemicals – Take a close check on all the chemicals that you are using at your home either for cleaning or washing purposes.
- Vaccination – Some important vaccinations that you are required to take are Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. These vaccinations will reduce the risks of contamination.
- Protected Sex – Even if you are sure that your partner is not affected by any STD’s, do not get involved in unprotected sex.
- Cleanliness – Keep your body and surrounding clean. If you are getting in contact with any injections, make sure it is a new one. Keep your surroundings clean.
- Consult your doctor – Visit your doctor and discuss the symptoms and details plus never ignore any minor change in your body as well.
Liver cancer can be palliated best when diagnosed at an early stage. Hence, from today onwards take a note of the changes inside your body and in addition to that adopt a healthy living in order to avoid end-stage liver cancer symptoms and signs.
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