Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) is a cancer arising from the liver. It is also known as primary liver cancer or hepatoma. The liver is made up of different cell types (for example, bile ducts, blood vessels, and fat-storing cells). However, liver cells (hepatocytes) make up 80% of the liver tissue. Thus, the majority of primary liver cancers (over 90 to 95%) arises from liver cells and is called hepatocellular cancer or carcinoma.
Primary liver cancer is rarely discovered early and often doesn’t respond to current treatments — thus, the prognosis is often poor. Even when treatments fail to provide much improvement in the liver cancer itself, pain and other signs and symptoms caused by liver cancer can be aggressively treated to improve quality of life. But the most important news about primary liver cancer is that you can greatly reduce your risk by protecting yourself from hepatitis infection and cirrhosis, the leading causes of the disease.
Secondary Liver Cancer Most of the time when cancer is found in the liver it did not start there but spread to the liver from a cancer that began somewhere else in the body. These tumors are named after the place where they began (the primary site) and are further described as metastatic. For example, cancer that started in the lung and spread to the liver is called metastatic lung cancer to the liver. The rest of the information given here covers only primary liver cancer, that is, cancer that starts in the liver.
Signs and Symptoms of Liver Cancer
Most people don’t have signs and symptoms in the early stages of liver cancer, which means the disease may not be detected until it’s quite advanced. When symptoms do appear, they may include some or all of the following:
Abdominal pain, especially in the upper right part of your abdomen, that may extend into your back and shoulder. Pain that occurs in the right upper area of the abdomen. The liver is a very nerve rich organ and can be sensitive to changes.
Appetite – People with liver cancer may experience a continuous loss of appetite or feel very full after a small meal.
Worsened hepatitis or cirrhosis symptoms – More severe symptoms in people who have chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis are signs of liver cancer. These symptoms could include fluid in the abdomen, a symptom known as ascites, or the need for more and more water tablets (diuretics) to control the amount of fluid in the abdomen.
Abdominal pain is a very common symptom, and also common in children. Unfortunately, because there are so many possible causes of abdominal pain, and many cases are not serious, many cases of acute appendicitis are misdiagnosed each year as gastroenteritis or some other similar condition, especially in children and infants. Although appendicitis is an uncommon condition, it can be fatal. And there are many other serious conditions that may cause abdominal pain.
Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes caused by an accumulation of bile pigment -bilirubin- in the blood).
Esophageal varices (occurs when the tumor invaded and blocked the portal vein and the blood drains through esophageal veins).
Rarely: bleeding problems. Many of the proteins required for proper blood clotting are created in the liver. Remove these proteins and blood clotting decreases.
Chronic weight loss or wasting. The liver processes all the building blocks. If it fails to process, the body fails to maintain itself.