Your Liver is a large, meaty organ located right side of your belly, weighing about 1.5 kg of your body weight. The Liver is divided into two sections, the right and left lobes, and is protected by the rib cage. It produces bile juice, which plays a key role in digestion.
Your Liver is responsible for the filtering of blood continuously, converting nutrients and drugs into ready-to-use chemicals which are absorbed from your digestive tract.
It also performs many functions in your body, which include the removal of toxins and other wastes from your blood and preparing them for discharge. All the blood in your body needs to pass through your Liver and might come in contact with the cancer cells travelling in your bloodstream.
What Is Liver Cancer?
Liver cancer occurs when the healthy cells mutate and grow, largely forming a mass of tissues called tumours. Liver cancer can develop in the Liver itself or by cancer developed in other parts and spreads to the Liver. Liver cancer is categorized into two different types based on the occurrence:
Primary Liver Cancer: When cancer starts in your liver
Secondary Liver Cancer: It develops when cancer cells of other organs spread to your Liver.
Unlike other body cells, cancer cells can split from the primary site and can travel to other body parts through the bloodstream. Eventually, these cancer cells accumulate in other body organs and start to grow there.
Cancer acquired from other body parts such as the colon, stomach, lung, or breast to the Liver is more common and named after the organ in which it started. It is also called metastatic cancer.
Different Types of Primary Liver Cancer
The Liver is made up of various types of cells. It can begin as a single lump or starts in multiple places within the Liver. Severe liver damage can lead to multiple cancer growth sites. The main primary liver cancer types are:
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC): It is also called hepatoma, which nearly accounts for 75% of all liver cancers. This condition develops the predominant liver cells called hepatocytes. It can spread to other body parts like the pancreas, intestines, and stomach.
Cholangiocarcinoma: It is commonly called bile duct cancer because it develops in the bile ducts in your Liver. It nearly accounts for 10 to 20% of all liver cancers.
This type of liver cancer is rare, and it begins in the blood vessels of your Liver. It tends to progress quickly than other cancer types. Typically, it is diagnosed in its advanced stages.
Hepatoblastoma: This type of liver cancer is extremely rare. Mostly it is found in children, particularly children under the age of three years.
Symptoms of Liver Cancer
In the early stages of liver cancer, people may not experience symptoms. If the symptoms appear, they might include:
- Losing weight suddenly
- Loss of appetite
- Pain, swelling, or tenderness in the upper abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fever, chills and sweating at night
- Weakness and fatigue
- White, chalky stools
- Itching all over the body
- Swelling in your legs
If you observe the above symptoms, it is better to consult a liver cancer doctor as soon as possible. The symptoms might also be related to some other liver disorder. However, don’t let it go undiagnosed. Early detection and treatment for cancer ensure a better life.
Causes of Liver Cancer
Some liver cancers are acquired from other cancerous body parts, while some develop due to mutations in the DNA of liver cells.
Hepatocellular carcinoma is likely to occur when the Liver is damaged by birth, alcohol consumption, or a chronic infection like hepatitis B and C.
Hemochromatosis(inherited liver diseases) and cirrhosis can also cause liver cancer.
Some other risk factors of liver cancer are:
- Gender – men are more prone to liver cancer than women.
- Diabetes – type 2 diabetes
- Family history of liver cancer(Hereditary)
- Exposure to aflatoxins such as grains, wheat, nuts, etc.
- Low immunity
It becomes very difficult to treat liver cancer if it is diagnosed in later stages.
Treatment For Liver Cancer
The treatment for liver cancer depends on various factors such as size, number of places, and tumour location in the Liver, presence of cirrhosis, and whether the tumour spread to other body organs.
Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)/ Microwave and microembolization
It is one of the popular ablation methods used to destroy small tumours. In this process, doctors use high-energy radio waves to kill cancer cells. A needle-like probe is inserted into the tumour, and then high-frequency radio waves are passed through the probe. It heats the tumour and kills the cancer cells.
Embolization and Chemoembolization
Embolization and chemoembolization are the two procedures performed to block the hepatic artery. It helps to reduce the blood flow to the tumour in the Liver. In chemoembolization, chemotherapy drugs are directly injected into the tumour. It helps to reduce the size of the tumours.
Transarterial chemoembolization (TACE)
It is a minimally invasive technique used to treat cancer or tumours involving your liver. It is done by trained “interventional radiologists” with help of real-time image guidance technique.
TACE often involves making smaller incisions but has low risks of complication, and recovery time is also very less than traditional surgery. Around 70% of the patients with liver cancer will see improvement based on the liver cancer type. The survival rate and quality of life also improve a lot.
While executing the TACE procedure, an interventional radiologist uses the latest live imaging method to guide a catheter to your liver through the blood vessels by making a small incision in the groin area.
The catheter is able to deliver both chemotherapy medication and embolization elements into your blood vessels. It helps to block the blood flow to the cancer cells and eventually they die. Most of the people are able to return to normal activities within 1 to 3 weeks.
Transarterial Radioembolization (TARE)
TARE is a special procedure used in the treatment of liver tumours. A specially trained interventional radiologist doctor performs this procedure. The procedure involves injecting tiny beads into your blood vessel that carry radioactive materials.
The radioactive materials kill cancer cells or slow growth of cancer and do not harm healthy tissue around it. Often this treatment is termed as TARE-Y90 – transarterial radioembolization with yttrium-90.
Surgery: If the tumour is small and occupies small parts of the Liver, the surgeon removes that particular portion of the Liver to stop cancer growth.
More than half of the people with liver cancer have cirrhosis. In such cases, the surgeon removes the damaged part of the Liver. This procedure is called Hepatectomy. Later the healthy tissues regrow and replace the extracted part.
Any liver cancer can be treatable. You no longer need to live with faulty liver anymore.
For more information about treatment for liver cancer, consult Dr. Pradyumna Reddy, one of the best liver cancer treatment doctors in Hyderabad. He has more than five years of experience in treating cancer through TACE, TARE and Ablation therapy.