Liver cancer

Liver cancer is also known as hepatoma or hepatocellular carcinoma. Because the liver is made up of mostly hepatocytes, or liver cells, most liver cancers originate from the liver cells. This is the reason the term hepatocellular carcinoma is frequently used. The liver cells all have different functions. Some cells make up the bile ducts while others the blood vessels and some are just there to store fat in the liver. When a patient has cancer that has originated in the liver or the liver cells it is also referred to as having primary liver cancer. Often times a patient will have liver cancer that originated from another organ but has spread to the liver. Cancers that have started in the stomach, colon, pancreas, lung or breast can all spread to the liver. When this happens, the liver cancer is known as metastatic liver cancer or secondary liver cancer. Both are types of liver cancer but the terms describe how the liver became infected with the cancer.

There are several different factors that can contribute to primary liver cancer. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are both viruses that are causes of liver cancers. Also cirrhosis, alcoholism, aflatoxin B1, hemochromatosis, and some drugs and chemicals can lead to liver cancer as well. Liver cancer is most commonly found in Southeast Asian countries as well as parts of Africa. Here in the United States liver cancer is one of the top 10 cancers diagnosed. About 1 in every 100,000 people will suffer from some form of liver cancer. However, most of the sufferers of liver cancer here in the United States are of Asian, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, or Hispanic decent. Although it does occur in Caucasians, it is less common.

Often liver cancer is not diagnosed in patients in other countries until it has reached a very advanced stage. However, in the United States where medical care is more available, patients are usually diagnosed in the earlier stages. Some of the symptoms of liver cancer may include, jaundice, abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, enlarged and tender liver, weight loss, muscle loss, fever, or the sudden deterioration of health in a patient that has been suffering from cirrhosis.

The best way to determine whether a patient has developed liver cancer is by doing an ultrasound scan on the liver. Blood tests are not typically accurate in patients that already have cirrhosis of the liver. Ultrasounds can detect cancerous tumors as well as measure them.

Once a patient has been diagnosed with liver cancer the next step depends on what stage the cancer is in. Sometimes if a tumor is small (3 cm or smaller) surgery to remove just the tumor may be an option. This is called partial hepatic resection. However, this may not be an option for someone with cirrhosis of the liver. People who have cirrhosis of the liver cannot have this type of surgery because the liver cannot grow back after surgery. An otherwise healthy liver can regenerate and grow back the tissue after surgery. Unfortunately, studies have shown that once a liver has developed cancer one time it is more likely to develop again. For those that have a tumor removed it can be a matter of only one to three years before the cancer reappears.

The best solution for someone that has liver cancer is to receive a liver transplant. This means that the entire diseased liver is removed and replaced with another healthy liver. The problem is that there are nearly 4 times as many patients on the waiting list as there are donors so the available livers go to those with the worst conditions. There is hope though. With new medical technology we are beginning to use partial livers from living donors to help people with liver cancer.

Last updated on Aug 5th, 2009 and filed under Cancer Research. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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