Hepatocellular Carcinoma
(Liver Cancer)

Liver Cancer Summary
Liver cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the world and the majority of patients with liver cancer will die within one year as a result. Patients with associated cirrhosis caused by chronic hepatitis B or C infections, alcohol, and hemochromatosis are at the greatest risk of developing liver cancer. Many patients with liver cancer do not develop symptoms until the advanced stages of the tumor which usually makes prognosis poor. The combination of an imaging study (ultrasound, CT, or MRI scans) and an elevated blood level of alpha-fetoprotein will most effectively diagnose liver cancer, while a liver biopsy can make a definitive diagnosis. Medical treatments, including chemotherapy, chemoembolization, ablation, and proton beam therapy, are not very effective. Surgical removal of the tumor or a liver transplant may be most effective in certain cases.
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Liver cancer facts

  • Liver cancer is the third most common cancer in the world, and the majority of patients with liver cancer will die within one year as a result of the cancer.
  • In the U.S., patients with associated cirrhosis caused by chronic hepatitis B or C infections, alcohol, obesity or diabetes, and hemochromatosis are at the greatest risk of developing liver cancer.
  • Patients with chronic liver disease (for example, hepatitis C virus, hepatitis B virus, or hemochromatosis) should avoid drinking alcohol, which can further increase their risk of developing cirrhosis and liver cancer.
  • Many patients with liver cancer do not develop symptoms until the advanced stages of the tumor. When the patient does develop symptoms, the prognosis is usually poor.
  • The combination of an imaging study (ultrasound, CT, or MRI scans) and an elevated blood level of alpha-fetoprotein most effectively diagnoses liver cancer.
  • A liver biopsy can make a definitive diagnosis of liver cancer, but the procedure requires an expert liver pathologist and is not necessary for all patients.
  • The natural history of liver cancer is quite variable and depends on the stage of the tumor and the severity of the associated cirrhosis.
  • Medical treatments for liver cancer such as chemotherapy are slowly becoming more effective, although still disappointing. The new drug sorafenib has shown that survival can be prolonged.
  • Ablative and local techniques such as chemoembolization, radioembolization, radiofrequency or cryoablation, and stereotactic radiosurgery can by very useful in controlling individual cancers for an extended time.
  • Surgical resection (removal) of the tumor may be curative for a select group of individuals with liver cancer, specifically for those with small tumors and healthy liver function.
  • For patients with small liver cancer and significant associated liver disease, liver transplantation offers the only chance for cure.
  • This is a disease that should be almost entirely preventable by societal and lifestyle changes.

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Liver Cancer - Describe Your Experience Question: Please describe your experience with liver cancer.
Liver Cancer - Diagnosis Question: How was your liver cancer diagnosed?
Liver Cancer - Treatment Question: What kinds of treatment, including surgery, have been used for liver cancer in you or a relative?
Liver Cancer - Causes Question: What do you think are the causes of your liver cancer?
Liver Cancer - Symptoms Question: What were the signs and symptoms of liver cancer in you or someone you know?

Liver Cancer Symptoms

Early liver cancer often doesn't cause symptoms. When the cancer grows larger, people may notice one or more of these common symptoms:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen on the right side
  • A lump or a feeling of heaviness in the upper abdomen
  • Swollen abdomen (bloating)
  • Loss of appetite and feelings of fullness
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness or feeling very tired
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Yellow skin and eyes, pale stools, and dark urine from jaundice
  • Fever

These symptoms may be caused by liver cancer or other health problems. If you have any of these symptoms, you should tell your doctor so that problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

SOURCE:
National Cancer Institute

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