Liver Cancer: The Basics
Your liver is in the upper right part of your abdomen (belly). Your liver cleans the blood, makes bile, helps control blood sugar levels, and helps your blood clot. Liver cancer is caused by liver cells growing out of control. As the number of cells grow, they form a tumor.
Liver cancer that has spread from the liver to some other part of the body is called metastatic cancer.
- Liver scarring (cirrhosis) from alcohol use or having hepatitis C.
- Hepatitis B.
- Exposure to chemicals.
- Use of tobacco.
Signs of Liver Cancer
There are often no signs or symptoms of liver cancer until it has spread. Signs may be:
- Stomach pain.
- Feeling full or bloated.
- Not feeling hungry.
- Upset stomach.
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes.
- Losing weight.
Diagnosis of Liver Cancer
When your healthcare providers think you may have liver cancer, they will do a full exam of your body and ask you questions about your health. They also may order tests:
These tests are important but a biopsy is the only way to know for sure if you have cancer. A biopsy:
- Looks at a piece of the liver for cancer cells.
- Is used to find out the cancer type, how normal it is [grade], and if it has spread.
- May look at samples from lymph nodes to check for cancer.
A pathology report sums up these results and is sent to your healthcare provider, about 5-10 days after the biopsy. This report is an important part of planning your treatment. You can ask for a copy of your report for your records.
Staging Liver Cancer
To guide treatment, liver cancer is "staged." This stage is based on:
- Where and how big the tumor is.
- If there are cancer cells in the lymph nodes.
- If there are cancer cells in other parts of the body.
Stages range from stage I (smallest, most confined tumors) to stage IV (tumors that have spread to other parts of the body, called metastatic cancer). There is more than one staging system for liver cancer. Some others that may be used are The Child Pugh Score and the Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer staging system. The stage of liver cancer will guide your treatment plan.
Your treatment options may include:
- Surgery to remove the whole tumor.
- If you are unable to undergo surgery, there are other ways to treat the cancer, such as cryosurgery, radiofrequency ablation, ethanol injections, transarterial chemoembolization, and radioembolization.
- Radiation and chemotherapy are not often used but can be used to treat areas of metastasis.
- Targeted therapies have become more popular in the treatment of liver cancer.
This article is a basic guide to liver cancer. You can learn more about your type of liver cancer and treatment by using the links below.
American Cancer Society. Treating Liver Cancer. Taken from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/treating.html.
Liu, C. Y., Chen, K. F., & Chen, P. J. (2015). Treatment of Liver Cancer. Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in medicine, 5(9), a021535. https://doi.org/10.1101/cshperspect.a021535
Tunissiolli, N. M., Castanhole-Nunes, M. M. U., Biselli-Chicote, P. M., Pavarino, E. C., da Silva, R. F., da Silva, R. C., & Goloni-Bertollo, E. M. (2017). Hepatocellular Carcinoma: a Comprehensive Review of Biomarkers, Clinical Aspects, and Therapy. Asian Pacific journal of cancer prevention : APJCP, 18(4), 863–872. https://doi.org/10.22034/APJCP.2017.18.4.863