Liver Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Prevention & Treatments

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The abnormal growth of cells that occur in the liver region is called liver cancer, and it can spread across the region. In a few cases, cancer can begin outside the liver and spread inside. But the cancers that start in the liver are only called as liver cancer. The liver is located under the right lung and the rib cage. There is a wide range of functions that are performed by the liver, and the most important of all is the removal of toxins from the body. It is also an important organ that supports survival. The hepatic tumours that are malignant lead to the liver cancer in the body.

It has to be understood that the liver cancer has very fewer survival rates. The risk factors are high for the people who consume alcohol regularly, and those infected by hepatitis are also under the risk scale. Surgery, medication and liver transplantation are the options available for treating this cancer.

Different Stages of liver cancer:

The various stages of cancer can mean how much the organ is affected. It has to be accepted that only cancer in the initial stage can be treated with efficiency. The other 2 stages are difficult to treat.

–  Stage 1: This is the stage where a tumour is present in the liver. But it has not spread apart from the liver to the other organs. This ensures that the treatment is easier, and the survival rate is higher.

–  Stage 2: In this stage, a tumour should have reached the blood vessel. Or there can be too many small tumours inside the liver.

–  Stage 3: In this stage, there are multiple large tumours present in the liver. They might have reached the main blood vessels, and the cancerous growth might have reached the gallbladder.

–  Stage 4: This stage is the worst part of cancer, which is metastasized. This means cancer has spread to various body parts.

The stage of cancer has to be diagnosed right to ensure the right treatment is given.

Symptoms of Liver Cancer:

Unfortunately, the liver cancer is not identified, until cancer grows enough to make the treatment tough. The final stage of cancer is when many people get to know the growth of a malicious tumour had been existing without their knowledge for long.

A few symptoms of liver cancer are listed below:

–  Jaundice: jaundice gets back again and this condition is recurring in spite of proper treatment offered to the affected.

–  Abdominal pain: Unbearable pain in the upper abdomen, that never goes off with pain relievers is a vital symptom

–  Unexplained weight loss: The liver is affected, and this is the organ that is responsible for various functions including stimulating the appetite. When liver cancer is on the grow, the patient loses appetite, and the weight loss can happen for no reason.

–  Enlarged liver: This can be seen only with the X rays or the scans

–  Fatigue: an Unexplained weakness that does not go even with enough rest is one of the symptoms

–  Nausea: Nausea can be occurring because the functions of the liver are not performed

–  Vomiting: Vomiting often, especially after food intake should be checked by the doctor immediately when the symptoms mentioned above to are experienced

–  Back pain: Enlargement of the liver can lead to back pain

–  Itching: Itching and rashes are seen

–  Fever: Mild fever that occurs often is also a crucial sign that cancer is onset in the liver.

Causes of Liver Cancer:

Liver cancer has no exact cause to be pointed out. But, in most of the cases, scarring of the liver and cirrhosis are associated with the liver cancer.

– American Cancer Society says that hepatitis C is one of the causes behind liver cancer

– People who are born with hepatitis B or hepatitis C have a higher risk of being affected by liver cancer

– Hereditary can be one of the causes behind the liver cancer. This is not directly cancer connecting the genetic activities. Hemochromatosis is a liver disease that is inherited, and this can lead to the condition called cirrhosis. This, in turn, can increase the risk of liver cancer.

– Type 2 diabetes is a condition that can increase the risk of liver cancer. People who are affected by type 2 diabetes, when consuming alcohol have more risk. If they are affected by hepatitis then the chances of affected by liver cancer

– It is also seen that if in a family when either of the parent or siblings are affected by liver cancer, the chances of the member of the family getting affected are higher

– When one takes alcohol is higher amounts, and also frequently, then the chances of getting affected by liver cancer are higher.

– When an individual is exposed to aflatoxins for years, then he or she is likely to develop liver cancer. This is a substance made by fungus. Wheat, groundnut, soybeans, peanuts, corn, nuts and another such foodstuff can develop this fungus.

– When the immune system is weak, then the chances of getting affected by liver cancer are higher. Especially, if the patient is affected by HIV/AIDS, then the threat of this cancer is higher

– Risk of developing liver cancer is higher in people who are obese

– Liver cancer is often found in the males than in the females. This is not because of any specific reason except for the lifestyle. Men smoke and consume alcohol more compared with women, or to be specific most women refrain from these risk factors, leading to the fewer chances of developing liver cancer.

– Liver cancer can be because of the consumption of arsenic. Arsenic is one of the naturally occurring toxins, and people who rely on water wells can consume it. This can also lead to various diseases.

How is it diagnosed?

When liver cancer is diagnosed early, the chances of effective treatment and survival rate are higher.

The first step of the doctor is to find out the symptoms and check if they are related to liver cancer. The strongest points are swollen abdomen and yellowish eyes. Though these may not indicate liver cancer itself, they confirm the diseases or the problems of the liver.

Here are a few tests that are often required to diagnose liver cancer.

–  Blood test: The level of substances present in the blood is diagnosed with the range of blood tests. Even the existence of blood clots is checked. White blood cells count, Red blood cells count and platelet count are also looked for.

–  Viral Hepatitis Test: Presence of hepatitis B or C is checked. This again is done through a blood test. Urine tests are also required.

–  Biopsy: Tissue sample of the liver is collected. This test tells if the tumours are cancerous or noncancerous.

–  Laparoscopy: this is a surgical procedure that is done under a sedative. Local or general anaesthesia is administered, and a long tube is inserted into the abdomen. The doctor can see through the camera attached to the tube, the insides of the abdomen. The liver and the surrounding region are checked, and any abnormalities are looked for.

Treatment of Liver Cancer:

When liver cancer is diagnosed in the initial stage, it can be treated effectively. This is done through a surgery. Surgery is done to remove the tumours in the liver.

Partial hepatectomy:

– This is a procedure to remove a small part of the liver. However, this can be done only when a tumour is small, and it does not cover a lot of space in the liver

– Many people who suffer from liver cancer are also down with cirrhosis. This means the procedure has to leave behind some healthy tissues to perform the usual functions of the liver.

– It has to be understood that the procedure can be left halfway when it seems that the hepatectomy that leaves a part of the liver is not going to help. Also, if the patient is under severe risk, the procedure can be cancelled even after it has begun

– This procedure is not an option for all people. Only people with the healthy liver condition can opt for this. Especially when cancer is not spread over various organs, this procedure cannot be chosen.

– If the patient has bleeding issues or issues with blood clotting, this surgery is not an option. Also, for the people who are down with pneumonia, this surgery is not good. Liver infections or any other infections again prevent from opting for this surgery.

Liver transplant:

For the patients who have larger tumours more than 5 cm, or with multiple tumours more than 3 cm, a liver transplant is the option. The treatment itself is risky, but it considered the only hope compared with the risk of cancer coming back. The risk of cancer is reduced drastically when the transplant is successful. The liver starts functioning normally as a result.  But there is a problem of the immune system not accepting the new liver. It sees the liver as a foreign body, and the donors are also very less compared with the people who wait for the requirement.  When drugs are given to suppress the immune system, this can again lead to various troubles.

Incurable tumours:

Tumours can be adamant and cannot be cured always. This means that the survival rate is very low. However, modern medicine has ways to ensure the affected can still fight to survive.

– Ablative therapy : The drugs like alcohol are directly injected into a tumour in this treatment method. Lasers are also used to treat the tumours.

– Radiation therapy : Radiation kills the tumour cells, and it can attack and kill a significant number of cells.  This also means the healthy cells adjacent to the tumour cells are killed

– Chemotherapy : The cancer cells are killed with the medications used. Another treatment method is chemoembolization. Here the supply of blood is stopped to the tumour cells. This can be done via surgery or mechanically. The tumour cells are then administered with  anti-cancer  medicines

The stage and type of liver cancer decide which is the most suitable treatment method.


Taking steps to keep liver cancer off is the best way out, for the liver cancer can let you struggle and still fail. It is essential to identify and diagnose this disease earlier for better survival rates.

A few steps mentioned here can help in ensuring the liver is healthy, and the risk of cancer cells developing in the liver is lesser.

Moderate alcohol intake:

When taking of alcohol is done regularly and in higher volume, the liver can lose its vigour. This can lead to cirrhosis. The chances of the liver cancer are higher in such cases.  So, it is essential to take a lesser amount of alcohol and never make it an everyday habit. This is also true in the case of smoking and taking any form of tobacco.

Hepatitis B Vaccination:

Hepatitis B can trigger cancer in the liver. So, opting for a vaccination helps. People, who have the need to share needles due to any reason, must get vaccinated for Hepatitis B. People who have unprotected sex with multiple partners, also should choose to get Hepatitis vaccination taken. Healthcare professionals like doctors and nurses should consider getting one. Also, the people who travel a lot, and need to depend on any source of water that is risky to consume, and take food often can also benefit from this vaccination.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with good food habits, and exercises, and maintaining a healthy weight can help in bringing down the risk of this disease.

It is also essential to find the exact reason that can trigger liver cancer. For instance, diabetes is one of the risk factors. When one is diabetic getting medications to manage it is essential. This can cut down the risk.

Consider going for an annual health checkup. This helps in early diagnosis and proper treatment.


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