About the disease
Liver cancer develops in the liver cells. The liver is responsible for filtering the blood, removing toxins and other waste products from the body. It also absorbs useful nutrients supplied by the gastrointestinal tract. There are two forms of liver cancer: primary and secondary. Primary liver cancer originates initially in the liver, whereby secondary liver cancer is metastatic, meaning it has spread to the liver from other organs or from the bloodstream. Statistics of liver cancer vary, depending on the country.
According to the American medical website WebMD, only 2% of all cancer cases in the USA develop originally in the liver, whereas in less developed countries liver cancer accounts for almost 50% of all cancer patients. This can be explained by the prevalence of viruses, hepatitis and adverse environmental factors in less developed countries. Moreover, the majority of all cases of liver cancer are caused by Hepatitis B or C. It can also by caused by cirrhosis, alcoholism and a genetic predisposition.
In some cases, tumors that originate in the liver are benign, which means they are not life-threatening. Nonetheless, they cause symptoms that are similar to cancer and a detailed investigation is required to determine whether the tumor is malignant or benign.
- Yellow skin
- Liver pain
- Swelling of legs
- Weight loss
- An ultrasound of the liver creates an image that can reveal any abnormal growth or changes in the liver’s dimensions.
- CT and MRI scans create more detailed pictures of the liver and can establish which stage the cancer is at, as well as determine whether it is primarily or secondary.
- A biopsy is essential for distinguishing between malignant and benign tumors. A sample of the liver tissue is examined under the microscope.
- Atypical marginal or wedge liver resection is a surgical procedure that is used if the exact location of the tumor is known. This type of surgery allows the surgeon to preserve the patient’s liver but it can only be used if cancer has not spread to other organs and has not damaged the liver beyond repair.
- A unilateral hepatectomy is the partial surgical resection of the liver.
- Extensive liver resection is resorted to in progressed stages of liver cancer, when it is impossible to preserve the organ. The patient requires a liver transplant from a donor immediately after surgery.
- Chemotherapy kills the malignant cells and shrinks the size of the tumor. It can be used before or after the surgery.