What is Liver Cancer?

Liver cancer, as can be understood from the name, is a type of cancer that begins in the liver cells. Liver cancer’s most common form starts in the cells of the liver known as hepatocytes and is referred to as hepatocellular carcinoma. Primary liver cancer is caused due to prevalence of hepatitis caused by virsus causing chronic hepatitis. Primary liver cancer is commonly caused by chronic infection with diseases like hepatitis B & C, alcohol abuse, cirrhosis, and a hereditary disease known as hemochromatosis that is associated with a high amount of iron in the liver. Statistics reveal that more than half of the individuals affected with liver cancer have cirrhosis. Most of the patient can be incidentally detected to have liver disease, i.e. they don’t have any symptoms. Others can have vague symptoms like fever, fatigue, chills, and night sweats. Patients with advanced disease can have symptoms like pain and swelling of abdomen, weight loss, jaundice, itching, swelling of the feet, and loss of appetite.

Chronic liver Disease (CLD)

Types of Liver Cancer

Four main types of liver cancer are discussed below

  • Hepatocellular Carcinoma: It is the most common type of liver cancer and is also referred to as hepatoma which accounts for about 75 percent of the total cases of liver cancer. It develops in the cells of the liver known as hepatocytes and can spread from the liver to different body parts like the stomach, intestines, and pancreas. Hepatocellular carcinoma has a higher chance to occur in individuals which have severely damaged their liver due to alcohol abuse.
  • Cholangiocarcinoma: It is more commonly referred to as bile duct cancer because it occurs in the bile ducts of the liver. Bile ducts are small tube-like structures that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder for aiding digestion. Cancer that starts in the parts of the bile ducts inside the liver is known as intrahepatic bile duct cancer and on the other hand, cancer starting in the parts of the bile ducts outside the liver is known as extrahepatic bile duct cancer.
  • Liver Angiosarcoma: It is a very rare form of liver cancer that starts in the liver’s blood vessels and can progress very rapidly. Thus, diagnosis becomes quite difficult at an early stage. Usually, it is diagnosed at an advanced stage and hence becomes very difficult to treat.
  • Hepatoblastoma: It is the rarest form of liver cancer and is most found in children under three years of age.

Liver Cancer Treatment Options

Ablation (Microwave ablation/ radiofrequency ablation): The treatment procedure makes use of heat or ethanol injections to destroy the cells of cancer. Ablation happens to be a suitable treatment option for liver cancer when the affected individuals are not suitable candidates for a liver transplant or surgery.

Embolization and Chemoembolization: These are the procedures used for treating liver cancer. The procedure is performed to block off the hepatic artery which reduces the flow of blood into the tumor by using small particles and chemotherapy drugs are delivered along with the blocking particles. It is to make sure that the injected chemotherapy drugs stay in the liver for a longer time.

Hepatectomy: It is a surgical procedure performed to remove a portion of the affected liver with cancer or all the liver. The surgery is only done when the cancer is limited to the liver and has not spread to other parts. After the surgery, healthy tissues will regrow over time.

Liver Transplant: The procedure involves the complete replacement of an diseased complete liver and is replaced by a healthy liver from the donor. A liver transplant is only performed when the cancer is limited to the liver and has not spread to other parts or organs.

Radiation Therapy: The therapy uses radiation beams of high energy to destroy the cancer cells. The high-energy radiation can be delivered by either internal radiation or external beam radiation.

Targeted Therapy: The procedure uses medications that target the cancer cells. These medications help reduce the growth of the tumor and cut down the supply of blood to the tumor. Targeted therapy is performed on affected individuals which are not suitable for a liver transplant or hepatectomy.