Introduction: Liver cancer is the third leading cause of deaths due to cancer in the world after lung and stomach cancer, with nearly 600,000 deaths in 2002. A deadly cancer, It will kill nearly all patients who have it within one year. In 1990, the World Health Organization (wHO) estimated that there were about 430,000 new cases diagnosed on a world wide basis,and a similar number of people died as a result of this disease.
About 75% of the cases occur in Southeast Asia (China, Hong Kong,Taiwan, Korea, and Japan). The occurence of liver cancer in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa is higher than 20 cases per 100,000 population. In contrast, the frequency of cases in North America and Western Europe is much less, fewer than five per 100,000 population. However, the frequency of cases among Alaskan natives is comparable to that seen in Southeast Asia.
CAUSE: The cause of liver cancer is usually cirrhosis (scarring of the liver). Cirrhosis may be caused by viral hepatitis, primarily hepatitis B and C, alcohol abuse, hemochromatosis, certain auto-immune diseases of the liver, and other diseases that result in chronic inflammation of the liver.
SYMPTOMS: Many patients with liver cancer do not develop symptoms until the advanced stages of the tumor which usually makes prognosis poor. Symptoms can include a lump or pain on the right side of your abdomen and yellowing of the skin. However, you may not have any symptoms and the cancer may not be found until it is advanced.
Liver cancer patients often don’t experience symptoms prior to diagnosis. As the disease progresses, symptoms begin to appear causing possible discomfort. If a patient has symptoms, his or her doctor may order special x-rays, such as a computed tomographic scan or a liver scan. If you experience any symptoms of liver cancer, you should report them to your doctor.
TYPES: Since the liver is made up of several different types of cells, numerous types of tumors can form in the liver. While there are other kinds of liver cancer, the most usual occuring form in adults is called hepatocellular carcinoma (huh-pat-uh-CELL-u-larcar-sin-o-muh). Physicians can identify several subtypes of hepatocellular cancer by studying tissue under a microscope. Most of these subtypes do not affect treatment or the patient’s outlook.
RISK: Risk factors for primary liver cancer include Having hepatitis, Having cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, Being male, Low weight at birth. Patients with associated cirrhosis caused by chronic hepatitis B or C infections, alcohol, and hemochromatosis are at the greatest risk of developing this form of cancer.
The only hope for patients who are at risk for liver cancer is regular surveillance so that the cancers can be found early. But the most important news about primary liver cancer is that you can greatly reduce your risk by protecting yourself from hepatitis infection and cirrhosis, the leading causes of the disease.
TREATMENT: Treatments for primary liver cancer depend on the extent (stage) of the disease as well as the persons age, overall health, feelings and personal preferences. Treatments that your doctor will consider include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and in a few instances liver transplantation.
Aggressive surgery or liver transplantation can be successful in treating small or slow-growing tumors if they are found early. Primary liver cancer is hardly ever discovered early and usually doesn’t respond to current treatments. Thus, the prognosis is usually not very good. Even when treatments fail to produce much improvement in the cancer itself, pain and other signs and symptoms caused by the cancer can be aggressively treated to improve quality of life.
CONCLUSION: Liver cancer is the 5th most common cancer in the world. It may be difficult to diagnose early because patients often do not have any symptoms and the cancer usually grows quickly. It is usually diagnosed when tumors from other parts of the body have metastasized to the liver (metastatic liver cancer), but can also more rarely arise directly in the liver (primary liver cancer). The disease can begin within the liver (primary liver cancer or hepatocellular cancer) or metastisize to the liver (metastatic liver cancer) from other organs, such as the colon.
Even though many cancers are declining in the United States, new cases of primary liver cancer are increasing. Although the current techniques for surveillance are not very good at detecting early liver cancer, newer techniques are being tested and appear to be better. Because standard treatments often aren’t effective against the disease, you may want to consider participating in a clinical trial, a research study that tries to improve current treatments or find new treatments. More studies are needed to understand how targeted therapies may be used to control advanced liver cancer.