Liver Cancer

What is liver cancer?

Liver cancer is a form of cancer that affects the liver, a major organ in the body. Primary liver cancer is relatively uncommon in the UK, with around 2,800 new cases diagnosed every year. Secondary liver cancer is more common, and means that the cancer has spread to the liver from another part of the body. Primary live cancer can be found in many forms, with the most common type being hepatocellular carcinoma and this accounts for 85 percent of cases of liver cancer.

What are the causes of liver cancer?

The accurate cause of liver cancer is unknown, though a few risk factors are said to play a part. These include:

  • Liver cirrhosis: this is scarring of the liver, which can be caused by infections, heavy or prolonged drinking and rare liver conditions, such as haemochromatosis.
  • Infection with hepatitis B or C
  • Family history
  • Inherited disorders
  • Environmental factors
  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Weakened immune system

Symptoms of liver cancer

Symptoms that may be associated with liver cancer include:

  • Unexplained weight loss (usually a significant amount of weight)
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice (yellow skin)
  • Dark urine
  • Abdominal pain
  • Feeling bloated after eating, even when you have only eaten a small amount

How is liver cancer diagnosed?

If you feel unwell or you develop symptoms, your first port of call should be your GP. Your GP will ask you some questions and perform an examination. If they suppose that you may have liver cancer they will recommend you to a specialist for further analysis. At the hospital you may have tests including liver function tests, an ultrasound, CT and MRI scans and a biopsy. The results of the examinations will be used to confirm diagnosis.

How is liver cancer treated?

Surgery and chemotherapy are the most common types of treatment for liver cancer. Surgery will only be carried out if the cancer is restricted to the liver, and if this is the case the cancerous tissue will be removed. If surgery is not possible chemotherapy may be used to shrink the tumour and to slow progress and radiotherapy is also an option for this purpose.

What is the outlook for people with liver cancer?

The outlook, like most other forms of cancer, depends largely on cancerous stage and the general health of the individual. If cancer is diagnosed early, the prognosis is much more positive than a diagnosis at an advanced stage. However, most cases of primary liver cancer are diagnosed at an advanced stage and therefore survival rates are low.

Living with liver cancer

Living with liver cancer can be very difficult. It is emotionally and physically challenging and you may find it difficult to admit your diagnosis. Your care team will manage all degrees of your care, but if you want to talk to someone or you need help, information or guidance you can contact cancer charities operating in the UK.

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