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Liver Cancer

What is liver cancer?

The most common type of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma.

Liver cancer consists of malignant hepatic tumors (growths) in or on the liver.

The most common type of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma (or hepatoma, or HCC), and it tends to affect males more than females.

Symptoms of liver cancer

Signs and symptoms of liver cancer tend not to be felt or noticed until the cancer is well advanced.

HCC signs and symptoms may include:

  • Jaundice - skin, tongue and whites of the eyes become yellow
  • Abdominal pain - often on the right side, may reach as high up as the shoulder
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Hepatomegaly - enlarged liver, the abdomen may appear swollen
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Emesis (vomiting)
  • Back pain
  • General itching
  • Fever.

Treatment options for liver cancer

Unfortunately, because symptoms do not appear until the liver cancer is well advanced, currently only a small percentage of patients with HCC can be cured; according to the NHS only about 5% can be saved.

Liver cancer treatment options include:

Treating curable cancer

Surgery - in the early stages, when the tumor is small and occupies just a small part of the liver, it can be surgically removed (surgical resection). Even if part of the liver is removed during this procedure, the patient's health should not be significantly undermined.

Liver transplant - candidates for a liver transplant cannot have a tumor larger than 2 inches (5cm), according to the NHS. If the tumor is larger, the risk of the cancer coming back is too high, says the NHS.

If the liver cancer has had a chance to advance, the likelihood of a cure is extremely small. However, there are things the medical team can do to treat symptoms and slow its advancement.

Ablative therapy - substances are injected directly into the tumor, such as alcohol. Lasers and radio waves can also be used.

Radiation therapy (radiotherapy) - radiation is directed at the tumor(s), killing a significant number of them. Patients may experience nausea, vomiting and fatigue.

Chemotherapy - medications are injected into the liver to kill cancer cells (chemoembolization). In chemoembolization the blood supply to the tumor is blocked surgically or mechanically and anticancer drugs (chemotherapy) are administered directly into the tumor.

Volunteer for clinical studies - when trials reach the human stage they are called clinical trials. Ask your doctor whether there are any available in which you may be able to take part.

Treatment options may vary, depending on the type of liver cancer.

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