Liver cancer (hepatic cancer) is the abnormal growth of liver cells (also known as hepatocytes) in the cancer.
Liver cancer shows few or no sign at the earliest stage especially if at least 1 out of the four lobules are still working effectively, however, it is often detected at the chronic stage then the liver cancer symptoms begin to show up.
Majority of liver cancers develop from liver cirrhosis, a condition characterized by hardening of liver cells due to back flow of bile which blocks the bile duct thus causing a buildup of pressure within the liver that leads to the death of liver cells, liver cirrhosis can also be caused by hepatitis B virus and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Other causes of cancer includes secondary metastatic cells that spread to the liver from other organs such as the abdomen, lungs, and the breast.
According to a study, Liver cancer has been referred to as the eighteenth most common cancer in the UK and twelfth most common cause of cancer death.
Hepatocellcular carcinoma (HCC) accounts for about 75% of all cancer cases, formed by malignant hepatocytes, it may also form when you are frequently exposed to aflatoxins (a group of chemicals produced by Aspergillus spp. fungi) . The following are signs of liver cancer associated with Hepatocellular carcinoma:
- Abdominal mass.
- Abdominal retention and abdominal pain.
- Jaundice (yellowish watery stool with oily feel, coupled with yellowing of the skin).
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Anemia (inadequate red blood cells in the body).
- Profuse sweating.
- Liver enlargement.
Other cancer types that may affect the liver, and its underlying anatomical structures are Bile duct cancer accounts for about 6% while other types such as hepatoblastoma, angiosarcoma and hemangioendothelioma, embryonal sabcoma and fibrosarcoma, carcinosarcomas, teratomas, yolk sac tumours, carcinoid tumours and lymphomas.
Signs and symptoms of liver cancer
At the earliest stage of liver cancer, symptoms of liver cancer are usually non-existent because liver cells have a strong potential to regenerate dead tissues from hepatocytes, while other parts and lobules are still working the symptoms do not show up except in extreme cases.
The following are liver cancer symptoms:
- Swollen abdomen due to fluid retention called abdominal ascites within the abdomen.
- Upper quadrant abdominal pain, resulting from the liver.
- Abdominal tenderness.
- Loss of appetite.
- Feeling bloated after meals.
- High body temperatures and profuse sweating.
However, there are other medical conditions that may produce similar symptoms as liver cancer especially liver diseases and acid reflux. One of the early markers of liver cancer is yellowing of the skin, frequent yellow watery stool and unexplained weight loss. Weight loss up to 10% of your body weight should raise a serious concern.
Other liver cancer symptoms is persistent worsening of health condition, Feeling sick persistently should call for a serious concern.
Primary liver cancers are very hard to treat especially if it is not caught early. Secondary metastatic cancers are harder to treat because it may already have entered stage II or stage III before spreading to other secondary sites.
Other symptoms of liver cancer that manifests at chronic stage of development are:
- Dark-colored urine.
- Lump below the rib cage on the right hand side of the abdomen.
Liver cancer may be detected by the following diagnostic tools such as Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), blood test (for bilirubin levels, serum marker for liver cancer hepatocytes, alpha fetoprotein), Angiogram, ultrasound sonograph among others. Liver cancer can be treated through surgical means of removing part of the liver tissues (partial hepatectomy), full liver transplant, chemotherapy and radiofrequency ablation.