The liver is the largest internal organ in the human body. It’s responsible for several critical functions like filtering harmful substances from the blood, producing bile that helps in digestion and storing glycogen (sugar) for the body’s energy needs.
Unfortunately, liver cancer can develop and compromise these key bodily functions.
Whether it’s through routine check-ups or ultrasound scanning, the timely detection of cancerous cells and tumours in the liver can significantly contribute towards successful treatment.
But, before diving into symptoms and preventions steps, it’s important to know about the different types of liver cancers and non-cancerous tumours in relation to the liver.
Primary, secondary, and benign tumours
Primary liver cancer involves cancerous cells that first develop within the organ itself. There are many types of primary liver cancer, including Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and Intrahepatic Cholangiocarcinoma (also known as bile duct cancer).
HCC is frequently found in adults, with varying growth patterns. Sometimes, it starts out as a single tumour that gains mass over time. HCC can also develop through several small cancer nodules growing independently of each other throughout the liver.
Secondary liver cancer happens when cancerous cells from other parts of the body (e.g. stomach, breasts, pancreas) spread to the liver. Medical professionals also refer to this as metastatic liver cancer. This is fairly common in Europe and the US.
Benign liver tumours, on the other hand, are not as serious as the previous two and are usually cured with surgery. For instance, Hemangioma is a common type of benign tumour that begins to develop in blood vessels in the liver. For the most part, treatment is not required although some people may need to have Hemangioma removed.
Causes of liver cancer and some symptoms
While secondary liver cancers originate from cancer cells from other organs, it’s not entirely clear what causes primary liver cancers. The medical community has yet to fully understand its origins and the factors that directly cause the formation of cancer cells in the liver.
However, the consensus is that individual lifestyles are a good indicator of whether someone will contract primary liver cancer. It is also widely observed that it is more likely to develop in:
- Males and over the age of 60 years old
- Persons that have existing medical conditions like liver cirrhosis, hepatitis, gallstones, diabetes, and HIV
- Persons who have family members (e.g. brother, sister, parent) afflicted with primary liver cancer
Regardless if it’s primary or secondary liver cancer, some symptoms to look out for are the following:
- Visible lumps on the right side of your abdomen
- Skin or eyes appear yellow. Itchy skin may also be experienced
- Darker than usual urine
- Noticeable loss of weight despite lack of effort
- Flu-like symptoms or the general feeling of being unwell
- Indigestion symptoms (e.g. becoming quickly full while eating)
It’s important to note that these symptoms are common and it’s possible that the underlying cause is something else entirely. They are not a guarantee that someone is positive for liver cancer.
Steps towards prevention
Like with other diseases, it’s highly essential to make healthy lifestyle choices to avoid getting liver cancer.
Alcohol and cigarettes are the usual suspects. Excessive alcohol consumption puts a person at risk of developing cirrhosis, which can lead to liver cancer.
Heavy smoking, while directly affecting the mouth and lungs, can have adverse effects on other organs like the liver. In particular, smoking can induce the creation of hepatic carcinogens that contribute towards HCC.
Regular exercise is also important in staving off obesity. People who are obese are likely to get fatty liver disease and diabetes, all of which can hasten the development of liver cancer.
While doctors have yet to fully understand how liver cancer develops, we can all take necessary prevention steps to mitigate it or avoid it entirely.