The liver is a large meaty organ located in the upper right-hand portion of the abdominal cavity, beneath the diaphragm, and on top of the stomach, right kidney, and intestines. It is the largest internal organ in human anatomy and is crucial for surviving. Therefore, the development of cancerous cells in this organ of the body is life-threatening.
Liver cancer also termed hepatocellular cancer, originates in the cell of the liver (hepatocyte) itself. Even cancer spread through the bloodstream from the other part of the body to the liver can be the cause of this cancer.
Types of Liver Cancer
There are several types of liver cancer:
- Hepatocellular carcinoma (most common)
- Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma
Before diving into some surprising facts about liver cancer, let’s get to know how to identify the symptoms and the main causes that contribute to this type of cancer.
Liver Cancer Symptoms
The main problem of liver cancer is that its symptoms are not noticeable in the primary stage and this might obstruct timely treatment. Symptoms that you should be aware of are loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, fatigue and weakness, swelling or fluid build-up in the abdominal area, jaundice (yellow discolouration of your skin and white of your eyes), an enlarged liver, vomiting, fever, chalky stools and itching
Causes of Liver Cancer
The main causes that contribute towards liver cancer are listed below:
Chronic Infection with HBV or HCV
Chronic infection with the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) or Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) accelerates the risk of cancer.
This progressive and irreversible condition happens when the liver cells are damaged and get replaced with scar tissues in the liver.
Family History of Liver Diseases
If there is any person in your family who has severe issues related to the liver, especially Wilson’s disease, your chances of having liver cancer might increase.
People with blood sugar disorder also have an increased risk of getting liver cancer.
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Accumulated fat in the liver can lead to liver inflammation and scarring. This reflects underlying cell damage, which eventually develops into cancer.
Exposure to Aflatoxins
Aflatoxins are poisonous substances produced by a fungus found in mouldy wheat, peanuts and corn. Intake of such substances excessively may lead to the development of tumours in the liver.
Excessive Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol abuse may cause adverse effects on the liver. There are chances that due to excess consumption of alcohol, an individual can suffer irreversible damage.
It’s important to diagnose this cancer at the earliest and get the right liver cancer treatment.
Liver Cancer Facts
Here are a few eye-opening facts about liver cancer:
Liver cancer can be primary or metastatic
Primary liver cancer is the type that originates from within, through its cell. As stated before, this is further branched into two different types- Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC), which is the most common type of cancer and the others are Intrahepatic Cholangiocarcinoma and Hepatoblastoma, which are very rare.
Secondary cancer is also known as metastatic cancer, which spreads from the other parts of the body to the liver. The most common cancer that spreads to the liver is colon cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer and lung cancer. This simply means that the tumour is not breathing in the liver.
There’s no biopsy to diagnose liver cancer
Yes, this is a surprising fact because biopsy is one of the basic diagnosis techniques used to detect cancer. Most of the conclusions drawn about this cancer are through the imaging exam done by experts and doctors. Moreover, liver biopsy can be risky as it can either stimulate tumours to excrete more cancer cells or it can go undetected.
Liver cancer progression is slower as compared to other types of cancer
There is a common belief that liver cancer progresses very rapidly, but this is not the case. This cancer is often detected late and by the time it is diagnosed, it might have already doubled in size. Liver cancer doubles in almost three months if timely treatment is not started.
Liver cancer symptoms don’t usually show until it progresses
Detection of liver cancer in the early stages is very rare. This happens in cases wherein an imaging test is done due to some other issues and the tumour gets detected in the reports. For most of the cases, this cancer gets detected when an individual starts showing serious health issues or it has progressed very far.
Liver cancer is associated with cirrhosis
Most individuals who have had liver cancer have cirrhosis too. Cirrhosis has many causes like consumption of excess alcohol, Hepatitis, virus, infections, obesity, damaged liver or any liver diseases.
Liver transplantation can save lives
Liver transplantation can help save lives if the cancer is detected in the primary stage. Additionally, the patient should also be eligible and healthy for the operation, and their body should be able to accept the borrowed organ.
Liver cancer can be inherited from a family member
If there is an immediate relative of yours who has had any liver disease or cancer, your probability of getting liver cancer also increases. So, in situations like these, it’s best to get yourself screened every six months.
October is liver awareness month
Like breast cancer, liver cancer awareness also has an associated emerald green ribbon colour. Throughout October, some communities unite intending to spread awareness about liver diseases and liver cancer.
Palliative care is important for liver cancer treatment
Palliative care is very important for liver cancer patients. This care is mainly focused on treating the mental health of the patient going through the pain and improving their quality of life. This involves managing symptoms and issues caused by liver cancer.
Gender affects the probability of getting liver cancer
In the case of liver cancer, men are twice as likely to get this cancer than women. The main reason is the fat cells that are secreted at higher levels in women prevent the cells from becoming cancerous.
Liver cancer is the third leading cause of death
Liver cancer is the third leading cause of death by cancer in the world in 2020 after lung cancer and colon cancer.