Liver Cancer or Hepatic Cancer

Liver cancer or hepatic cancer (from the Greek hepar, meaning liver) is a cancer that originates in the liver. Liver cancers are malignant tumors that grow on the surface or inside the liver. Liver tumors are discovered on medical imaging equipment (often by accident) or present themselves symptomatically as an abdominal mass, abdominal pain, jaundice, nausea or liver dysfunction.  Liver cancers should not be confused with liver metastases, which are cancers that originate from organs elsewhere in the body and migrate to the liver.

Hepatocellular carcinoma is cancer of the liver. Causes, incidence, and risk factors Hepatocellular carcinoma accounts for most liver cancers. This type of cancer occurs more often in men than women. It is usually seen in people age 50 or older. However, the age varies in different parts of the world. The disease is more common in parts of Africa and Asia than in North or South America and Europe. Hepatocellular carcinoma is not the same as metastatic liver cancer, which starts in another organ (such as the breast or colon) and spreads to the liver.

In most cases, the cause of liver cancer is usually scarring of the liver (cirrhosis).

Cirrhosis may be caused by:

  • Alcohol abuse (the most common cause in the United States)
  • Autoimmune diseases of the liver Hepatitis B or C virus infection Inflammation of the liver that is long-term (chronic)
  • Iron overload in the body (hemochromatosis)
  • Patients with hepatitis B or C are at risk for liver cancer, even if they have not developed cirrhosis
  • Symptoms Abdominal pain or tenderness, especially in the upper-right part
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Enlarged abdomen
  • Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • Signs and tests

Physical examination may show an enlarged, tender liver.

Tests include:

  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Liver biopsy
  • Liver enzymes (liver function tests)
  • Liver MRI Serum alpha fetoprotein

Some high-risk patients may get regular blood tests and ultrasounds to see whether tumors are developing treatment. Aggressive surgery or a liver transplant can successfully treat small or slow-growing tumors if they are diagnosed early. However, few patients are diagnosed early.

Dying of Breast Cancer in the 1800s

Chemotherapy delivered straight into the liver with a catheter can help, but it will not cure the disease. Radiation treatments in the area of the cancer may also be helpful. However, many patients have liver cirrhosis or other liver diseases that make these treatments more difficult. Sorafenib tosylate (Nexavar), an oral medicine that blocks tumor growth, is now approved for patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma. The usual outcome is poor, because only 10 – 20% of hepatocellular carcinomas can be removed completely using surgery.

If the cancer cannot be completely removed, the disease is usually fatal within 3 – 6 months. However, survival can vary, and occasionally people will survive much longer than 6 months Complications Gastrointestinal bleeding Liver failure Spread (metastasis) of the cancer Preventing and treating viral hepatitis may help reduce your risk. Childhood vaccination against hepatitis B may reduce the risk of liver cancer in the future. Avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Certain patients may benefit from screening for hemochromatosis.

If you have chronic hepatitis or known cirrhosis, periodic screening with liver ultrasound or measurement of blood alpha fetoprotein levels may help detect this cancer early.

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