Liver Cancer or Hepatic Tumour is a cancer of Liver. There are several different types of tumours that can develop in the liver as liver is made up of various cell types. These growths can be benign or malignant. Cancerous tumours can start in liver and spread to other areas of your body, through your bloodstream or your lymphatic system. This spread of cancer is called metastasis. Tumours may also spread from other parts of your body, such as from your bowel, breast or lungs, to your liver.
Symptoms of Liver Cancer
Most people do not have signs and symptoms in the early stages of primary liver cancer. When symptoms do appear, they may include:
- Losing weight without trying
- Loss of appetite
- Upper abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- General weakness and fatigue
- An enlarged liver
- Abdominal swelling
- Yellow discoloration of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
There are two broad categories of liver cancer: Primary and Secondary
Primary Liver Cancer
Primary liver cancer starts in the cells, bile ducts, blood vessels or connective tissue of the liver . There are different types of primary liver cancer that include:
- Hepatoma :This is the most common type. It is sometimes called hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). This type of cancer originates from a liver cell (hepatocyte) which becomes cancerous. The bulk of the liver is made up from hepatocytes. A hepatoma most commonly develops as a complication of liver diseases such as cirrhosis or types of hepatitis (liver inflammation).
- Fibrolamellar : This hepatoma is a rare sub-type of hepatoma. It typically develops in a liver that was previously healthy.
- Cholangiocarcinoma : This is uncommon. It develops from cells which line the bile duct.
- Hepatoblastoma : This is a very rare cancer that occurs in some young children.
- Angiosarcoma : This is very rare. It develops from cells of blood vessels within the liver.
Secondary Liver Cancer
Secondary liver cancer is a cancer that first develops elsewhere in the body and then spreads (metastasizes) to the liver. It is sometimes called metastatic cancer.
When a cancer forms in a part of the body, a few cancer cells may break off and find their way into the bloodstream. Because your liver filters your blood, any cancer cells in the bloodstream have a high chance of settling in the liver to form a cancer nodule (metastasis).
People who are most at risk of secondary liver cancer are those with cancers of the large bowel (colon), pancreas, stomach, lung or breast. It is important to know where the cancer started as this will determine the type of cells which are causing the cancer and affect which treatment is best suited for you. Secondary cancer diagnosed in the liver may be a sign of cancer in other organs. Sometimes, secondary cancer is found in the liver and yet, even with thorough medical tests, it’s not possible to find out where the cancer started.
- Physical exam — The doctor feels the abdomen to check the liver, spleen, and nearby organs for any lumps or changes in their shape or size. The doctor also checks for ascites, an abnormal buildup of fluid in the abdomen. The doctor may examine the skin and eyes for signs of jaundice.
- Blood tests — Many blood tests may be used to check for liver problems. One blood test detects alpha-fetoprotein (AFP). High AFP levels could be a sign of liver cancer. Other blood tests can show how well the liver is working.
- CT scan — An x-ray machine linked to a computer takes a series of detailed pictures of the liver and other organs and blood vessels in the abdomen. The patient may receive an injection of a special dye so the liver shows up clearly in the pictures. From the CT scan, the doctor may see tumors in the liver or elsewhere in the abdomen.
- Ultrasound test — The ultrasound device uses sound waves that cannot be heard by humans. The sound waves produce a pattern of echoes as they bounce off internal organs. The echoes create a picture (sonogram) of the liver and other organs in the abdomen. Tumors may produce echoes that are different from the echoes made by healthy tissues.
- MRI — A powerful magnet linked to a computer is used to make detailed pictures of areas inside the body. These pictures are viewed on a monitor and can also be printed.
- Angiogram — For an angiogram, the patient may be in the hospital and may have anesthesia. The doctor injects dye into an artery so that the blood vessels in the liver show up on an x-ray. The angiogram can reveal a tumor in the liver.
- Biopsy — In some cases, the doctor may remove a sample of tissue. A pathologist uses a microscope to look for cancer cells in the tissue. The doctor may obtain tissue in several ways. One way is by inserting a thin needle into the liver to remove a small amount of tissue. This is called fine-needle aspiration. The doctor may use CT or ultrasound to guide the needle. Sometimes the doctor obtains a sample of tissue with a thick needle (core biopsy) or by inserting a thin, lighted tube (laparoscope) into a small incision in the abdomen. Another way is to remove tissue during an operation.
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