Medical Condition: Liver Cancer
Commonly asked questions about liver cancer:
- What is liver cancer?
- Liver cancer risk factors
- Can power morcellators cause liver/abdominal cancer?
- Liver cancer causes
- Liver cancer symptoms
- Liver cancer treatments
- How to prevent cancer
- What drugs are used to treat liver cancer
What Is Liver Cancer?
Liver cancer is a dangerous form of cancer that begins in the cells of the liver. The liver, located in the upper-right area of the abdomen, is responsible for creating proteins, breaking down damaged blood cells, and the body’s metabolic process.
The cancer can originate and develop as several different sub-categories of liver cancer including hepatocellular carcinoma, intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma and hepatoblastoma. However, the most common of these forms is by far hepatocellular carcinoma which constitutes over 50% of all diagnosed cases of liver cancer.
A common misconception held by those researching liver-based cancers is what qualifies as a liver cancer. It is possible for cancer to affect the liver but not be considered or treated as a form of liver cancer. This occurs when the cancer arrived at the liver by the metastatic process in which it originated in another area of the body and then spread to the liver.
While this form of cancer may not qualify as a true form of liver cancer, metastatic cancer affecting the liver is far more common than cancer originating in the liver.
When not considering metastatic cancer cases, liver cancer routinely finds itself in the top-10 lists for most often diagnosed and lowest survival rates among cancers. Nearly 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with liver cancer every with with over 27,000 deaths occurring in that same time period.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) reports that when broken down, these numbers place liver cancer as the tenth most common cancer among men in addition to being the fifth most deadly. Regarding women liver cancer cases, the disease ranks as the eighth most common cause of cancer related death.
Liver Cancer Risk Factors
Who Is At Risk Of Developing Liver Cancer?
Because the liver plays a major role in the metabolic process, it is extremely susceptible to damage from unnatural and dangerous substances entering the body. When exposed to herbacides, chemicals, aflatoxins, and other harmful substances, the liver may experience progressive damage as exposure continues. This damage, which can also be brought on by other factors, can lay the foundation for liver cancer to begin to develop.
Other factors that may increase the risk of developing liver cancer includes:
Gender & Race
As could be inferred by the aforementioned liver cancer statistics, males are typically more vulnerable to developing liver cancer than females. In fact, some reports indicate that men’s liver cancer risk is nearly three times that of women.
In addition to gender, race can also play a major role in determining an individuals risk of liver cancer. When observing trends, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are typically the race with the highest risk of liver cancer.
Obesity carries a major risk of liver cancer development in an individual. When obese, an individual may suffer fro nonalcoholic fatty liver disease which is caused by too much fat accumulating in the liver.
Anything that involves the weakening of the liver can be cited as increasing the risk of liver cancer in some fashion.
Exposing you body to any number of substances can damage the liver in such a way the liver cancer may begin to develop. In addition to the chemicals previously detailed as damaging substances, substances including smoking products, alcohol, and anabolic steroids also work to damage the liver.
Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to irreparable liver damage as can excessive smoking. This damage is caused by the accumulation in the liver of alcohol, hormones, or other chemicals found in these products.
Medical conditions or diseases that affect the liver can also increase an individuals risk of developing liver cancer. One of the main cases of this is having a history of diabetes. Because diabetes is often connected to fatty liver disease, reports have suggested an equally strong connection to liver cancer.
Additionally, inherited metabolic diseases that alter the metabolic process have been connected to elevated liver cancer rates. Diseases related to elevated numbers of liver cancer cases also include alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, tyrosinemia, and Wilson’s disease.
How Can I Reduce My Risk Of Liver Cancer?
With the liver playing a major role in bodily functions, there are several preventative methods that can be pursued in various facets of an individuals life to reduce their risk of developing liver cancer.
One of the most effective methods is to reduce the pursuit of activities that may lead to cirrhosis – scarring of the liver – as this damage can be sufficient to weaken the body’s ability to prevent liver cancer. Ways to prevent cirrhosis and subsequent liver cancer includes:
- Limit Alcohol Consumption
- Maintain Healthy Weight
- Handle Chemicals Safely
Additionally, being vaccinated for hepatitis B and taking measures to prevent hepatitis C can significantly reduce the risk of liver cancer. For hepatitis C this includes being aware of the health of all sexual partners, halting use of intravenous drugs, and using safe shops for piercings or tattoos.
Can Power Morcellators Cause Liver/Abdominal Cancer?
Power morcellators are tools used by doctors in hysterectomies, as well as other minimally invasive procedures to remove uterine fibroids. Surgeons make small incisions to “morcellate” or chop up fibroids and tissue in order to cut them into smaller pieces. Surgeons then vacuum the residue out of the area.
The concern, however, is the morcellator has a possibility of spreading bits of the uterine or fibroid tissue to other tissues and organs, spurring on new growths.
The new growths can cause pain, infection, bowel obstruction or in some cases malignant cancer cells can become present. When cancer metastasizes, it infects other organs, such as the liver, ovaries and lungs. This form of cancer is called metastasized leiomysarcoma and is classified as a stage III or IV cancer and has a much higher fatality rate.
Liver Cancer Causes
How Do I Get Liver Cancer?
Like most forms of cancer, there has yet to be a determination of the exact cause of liver cancer. However, it is believed that chronic infection from hepatitis or other instances of irreparable liver damage can serve as direct liver cancer causes.
The actual process of liver cancer development follows this general explanation.
Liver cells will develop mutations after being subjected to extensive damage. The DNA mutations will change how the cells function, resulting in cell growth that does not naturally occur in the body. Additionally, liver cells will see in immense increase in their typical lifespan. As this growth is able to continue, the cells will accumulate and form a mass of cancerous cells – known as a tumor.
Xarelto is an anticoagulant drug designed to prevent the risk of stroke in those who use the drug. However, medical studies have indicated that taking the drug may lead to the development of liver cancer. In fact, the development is so severe that the main study detailing this issue recommended that the drug be discontinued until the health risk is remedied.
Liver Cancer Symptoms
Liver cancer often does not carry any identifiable symptoms when it is in its early stages of development, however there are multiple symptoms that appear once it has enter later stages of development. While these symptoms independently are not serious health risks, they can hinder an individuals daily lifestyle but more importantly indicate a need to contact a medical professional.
The most commonly reported symptoms of liver cancer include:
- Weight Loss
- Abdominal Pain
- Nausea & Vomiting
- Frequent Bruising Or Bleeding
Liver Cancer Treatments
How Can Liver Cancer Be Treated?
Liver cancer treatment can differ depending on the developmental stage of the cancer and the health or preferences of the individual suffering from the condition. Like all other cancers, the earlier the cancer is detected, the greater the ability is for medical professionals to pursue methods that can effectively combat the cancer.
Some of the possible treatment options include:
If the cancer is isolated in a specific area of the liver, a doctor may have the ability to perform surgery in which the tumor and a small portion of surrounding tissue is removed. This surgery can only be pursued in instances of smaller tumors with the liver still functioning properly.
A transplant involves a cancer-ridden liver being completely removed from the body and replaced with a healthy liver. Transplants are not commonly used in liver cancer cases as it can only be pursued in a small-percentage of people suffering from early-stage liver cancer.
Heating Or Freezing Cancer Cells
Using extreme temperature to eliminate cancer cells is a popular treatment option undertaken be medical professionals.
Radiofrequency ablation – the heating of the cells – utilizes an electric current to heat cells until destroyed. The current is applied through thin needles inserted through a small abdominal incision and directly touch the tumor being destroyed.
Opposite of heating the cancer cells, cryoablation uses extreme cold to destroy the targeted cancer cells. The cold is applied through a cryoprobe, an instrument containing liquid nitrogen, being placed directly onto the tumor.
Injecting Alcohol Into Tumor
An alcohol injection is carried out exactly as the name would suggest, alcohol is injected directly into the tumor. The injection can be executed through the skin or during an operation, the pure alcohol injection will cause the tumor cells to die.
Chemotherapy Or Radiation Liver Treatment
In similar fashion to alcohol injections, chemotherapy drugs are directly injected into the liver – chemoembolization. With the necessary drugs being directed injected into the liver, the method is efficient in eliminating cancer cells.
Radiation methods can also be pursued to eradicate liver cancer. For liver cancer, tiny spheres – beads – are filled with radiation and placed directly into the liver in a location where they can apply radiation directly to the source of the tumor.
How to Prevent Cancer
Cancer prevention can vary based on different research, and opinionated studies or news reports. However, these simple lifestyle changes can make a difference in the prevention of developing or forming cancer.
- Eat healthy
- Limit or stop your use of tobacco
- Have a balanced lifestyle
- Avoid risky behavior
- Visit your doctor
- Protect your skin from the sun
What Drugs are Used to Treat Liver Cancer?
The following drugs and medications are in some way related to, or used in the treatment of liver cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute:
- Nexavar (Sorafenib Tosylate)
- Sorafenib Tosylate