Liver cancer refers to the abnormal growth of tissue in the liver.
Primary liver cancer occurs when the tumour starts from the cells of the liver, while secondary liver cancer occurs when the main cancer spreads from another part of the body and deposits cancer cells in the liver.
There are several types of primary liver cancer. They include:
A cancer growing from the main cells in the liver is called hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) or hepatoma. It is the most common type of primary cancer.
The cells that line the bile ducts (tubes) are called cholangiocytes. A tumour in these cells is called a cholangiocarcinoma or bile duct cancer.
It can be confusing to distinguish the symptoms of liver cancer as most of them are similar to symptoms of other health conditions.
In addition, liver cancer often does not present symptoms in its early stage. It is best to consult a doctor if you experience any of the following liver cancer symptoms:
There are 3 main causes of primary liver cancer:
Other causes are less common and may include inherited liver conditions, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and exposure to certain chemicals or toxins.
The likelihood of developing liver cancer is increased by the following factors:
Liver cancer can lead to several complications and diseases, as the tumour can put pressure on nearby organs, cancer cells can cause changes in hormones, and liver dysfunction can cause toxins to build up.
Here are some of the complications and related diseases of liver cancer:
The liver produces bile, a fluid essential in the digestion of lipids in the small intestine. Bile is transported to the small intestine through ducts. In liver cancer, tumours that developed within these ducts can cause obstruction. An obstructed duct causes symptoms like persistent and severe pain in the right upper abdomen, itching, nausea, vomiting, and jaundice.
With liver cancer, the liver does not produce enough proteins that help in blood clotting. Without the right amount of these blood-clotting proteins, you may have bleeding problems, which can also lead to anaemia.
Liver cancer can create a blockage in the blood flow through the liver. This blockage can lead to portal hypertension, an increase in pressure within the portal vein that carries blood from the digestive organs to the liver. Symptoms and complications of portal hypertension include gastrointestinal bleeding, encephalopathy or confusion, reduced levels of platelets, and decreased white blood cell count.
Liver cancer can cause hormone problems that hinder the function of other organs, causing high calcium level in the blood or hypercalcaemia. Some common symptoms of hypercalcaemia are nausea and vomiting, extreme muscle weakness, and confusion, which can progress to coma and even death if left untreated.
When liver disease leads to kidney disease, it results to a condition called hepatorenal syndrome. It is caused by changes in blood vessels and reduced blood flow to the kidneys. Hepatorenal syndrome is a common complication of liver cancer and liver diseases.
Liver cancer can lead to hepatic encephalopathy, a decline in brain function due to severe liver disease. When the liver can no longer sufficiently eliminate toxins from the blood, toxins can build up in the bloodstream and result to brain damage. Symptoms include disorientation, memory loss, severe confusion, and personality changes.
You can prevent liver cancer by lessening your exposure to risk factors for the disease. Here are some ways: