What is Liver Cancer?

The liver is located in the upper abdomen and just below the right lung. It is the largest organ inside the human body and is necessary due to its many important functions some of which include:

  • The metabolism and storage of many ingested nutrients (e.g. vitamins and iron).
  • The production of clotting factors required to stop bleeding (due to injury).
  • The production of bile which is key for the assimilation of nutrients.
  • The breakdown and removal of toxic substances (e.g. drugs and alcohol) from the bloodstream.

Liver cancer accounts for approximately 1% of all new cases of cancer in the UK, making it a relatively uncommon form here. With this said, it is the sixth most common cancer worldwide -  this variation may be due to the unequal distribution of risk factors, availability and use of screening, and diagnostic methods.

The liver and kidneys, these body organs process chemicals.
The liver and kidneys, these body organs process chemicals.

It more commonly affects men than it does women and is strongly related to age, with the highest incidence rates being in older men and women (65 years onwards).

Liver cancer exists in two forms; primary and secondary. The secondary form (also called metastatic liver cancer) is when cancer that first develops in another part of the body spreads to the liver. Conversely, the rarer, primary form occurs when cancer originates in the liver itself.

Unfortunately, most people do not show signs and symptoms until the cancer is at an advanced stage. Even then, these symptoms often tend to be vague and may include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Depressed appetite
  • Abdominal swelling or pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Jaundice

If liver cancer is suspected, the tests that may be ordered include:

  • Abdominal imaging (e.g. CT scan, ultrasound, MRI) – detailed 3D images of the liver are generated.
  • Liver biopsy – the removal and testing of a small sample of liver tissue is required to differentiate between a benign and malignant tumor.
  • Liver (enzyme) function test.
  • Blood tests – liver cancers release a chemical called alpha fetoprotein (AFP), present throughout pregnancy but declines after birth. It acts as a tumour marker for liver cancer if elevated serum AFP levels are detected in adults.

The exact cause of primary liver cancer is unknown however there appears to be risk factors associated with the secondary form. Therefore, measures can be taken to reduce the risk of developing this cancer. These include:

  • Moderate (or little) consumption of alcohol – at the very least a person should avoid drinking more than the recommended daily amount (3-4 units for men, 2-3 units for women)
  • A healthy diet and regular exercise regimen
  • Prevention and treatment of viral hepatitis (B and C) –

These viruses are transmitted between people through:

  • The shared use of contaminated needles for example in intravenous drug use.
  • Through unprotected sex and childbirth, prevention methods include practising safer sex, such as the sustained use of condoms.

A vaccine to help prevent HBV infection is recommended to reduce the risk of hepatitis and liver cancer. On the other hand, there is no vaccine for HCV and infection must be controlled by educating the public on how these infections occur.

References:

Further Reading

Last Updated: Aug 23, 2018

Afsaneh Khetrapal

Written by

Afsaneh Khetrapal

Afsaneh graduated from Warwick University with a First class honours degree in Biomedical science. During her time here her love for neuroscience and scientific journalism only grew and have now steered her into a career with the journal, Scientific Reports under Springer Nature. Of course, she isn’t always immersed in all things science and literary; her free time involves a lot of oil painting and beach-side walks too.

Citations

Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Khetrapal, Afsaneh. (2018, August 23). What is Liver Cancer?. News-Medical. Retrieved on December 09, 2019 from https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Liver-Cancer.aspx.

  • MLA

    Khetrapal, Afsaneh. "What is Liver Cancer?". News-Medical. 09 December 2019. <https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Liver-Cancer.aspx>.

  • Chicago

    Khetrapal, Afsaneh. "What is Liver Cancer?". News-Medical. https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Liver-Cancer.aspx. (accessed December 09, 2019).

  • Harvard

    Khetrapal, Afsaneh. 2018. What is Liver Cancer?. News-Medical, viewed 09 December 2019, https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Liver-Cancer.aspx.

Comments

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News-Medical.Net.
Post a new comment
Post
You might also like... ×
Branched-chain amino acids in tumors can be targeted to prevent and treat cancer