What is the difference between liver tumor and liver cancer ?
Any mass or nodule in the liver is known as a liver tumor. Liver tumors can be non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). The most common type of cancer that originates in the liver is hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
What are the causes of primary liver cancer ?
There is no one cause of primary liver cancer. Several factors increase a person likelihood of developing liver cancer. Some risk factors for liver cancer include:
Viral hepatitis – Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections are an important cause for the development of liver cancer. It is estimated that about 5-10 percent of people with HBV or HCV will develop liver cancer.
- Cirrhosis is a progressive disorder that leads to scarring of the liver. Cirrhosis is the end result of all forms of long standing liver damage. Cirrhosis is caused by Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, alcohol abuse, fatty liver and certain genetic disorders. 5-10 percent of patients with cirrhosis will develop liver cancer.
- Toxins such as Arsenic – Drinking water (usually well water) contaminated with arsenic also increase risk for developing liver cancer. Obesity may increase the risk of liver cancer.
- Diabetes can increase the risk of liver cancer, especially in those who drink alcohol heavily or have chronic viral hepatitis B or C infection.
What are the symptoms of liver cancer ?
Liver cancer usually has no obvious symptoms, and people at risk should be followed regularly to detect cancer at an early stage. The following symptoms might be caused by liver cancer:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Anorexia (persistent lack of appetite)
- Early satiety (feeling very full after a small meal)
- Persistent abdominal pain
- Increasing abdominal girth (swelling of the “stomach” area) with or without breathing difficulty
- Sudden jaundice (yellowness of the skin and eyes)
- Sudden deterioration in the overall condition of a patient with cirrhosis
Which treatments are used for liver cancer?
In creating your treatment plan, important factors to consider include the stage (extent) of the cancer and the health of the rest of your liver. But you and your cancer care team will also want to take into account the possible side effects of treatment, your overall health, and the chances of curing the disease, extending life, or relieving symptoms. Based on these factors, your treatment options may include:
- Surgery (partial hepatectomy or liver transplant)
- Tumor ablation
- Tumor embolization
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
What tests will I have to detect liver cancer ?
If liver cancer is suspected, the doctor will conduct a physical examination and order special ests. Further tests may include alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) blood test, ultrasound scan, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), angiography, laparoscopy and biopsy. It is important to detect liver cancers early because small cancers in a patient who has minimal symptoms can be treated effectively.
What is liver cancer screening ?
Liver cancer screening is the best way to detect liver cancer early in its course. It is performed to detect small cancers that do not produce any symptoms. Small cancers can be treated more effectively. Patients who have a liver disease that puts them at a high risk of developing liver cancer (such as hepatitis B, any form of cirrhosis) should undergo periodic screening tests. It usually involves a blood test to look for a cancer marker (alpha-feto-protein) and an ultrasound scan of the liver to look for actual cancer. You must understand that screening tests are not 100 percent accurate and your doctor may advise you additional tests if he suspects that you may have a liver cancer.
How is liver cancer treated ?
Liver cancer treatment depends on:
- The liver condition
- The size, location, and number of tumors
- If the cancer has spread outside the liver
- The person age and overall health
Can a liver transplant be done for liver cancer ?
Surgery is the most effective therapy for most types of liver cancer, but doctors will usually combine different methods to treat the cancer most effectively. When surgery to remove the cancer itself cannot be performed, your doctor may suggest a liver transplantation in which the cancer along with the entire liver is replaced thus curing the patient.
If I have been diagnosed to have liver cancer, what questions should I ask my doctor ?
- You and your family should have a clear understanding of the disease and the treatment plan.
- What is my diagnosis?
- What is the stage of the disease?
- What are my treatment choices? Which do you recommend for me? Why?
- What are the chances that the treatment will be successful?
- What are the risks and possible side effects of each treatment?
- How long will my treatment last?
- Will I have to change my normal activities?
- What is the treatment likely to cost?
- What are the prospects for liver transplantation?
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