What is Liver Cancer? (Definition)
Liver cancer begins in the tissues of the liver (the largest internal organ), an organ that sits in the upper right portion of the abdomen, beneath the diaphragm and above the stomach. The liver breaks down and stores nutrients absorbed from the intestine that your body needs to function. The liver is primarily made up of cells called hepatocytes. It also is made up of other types of cells, which include cells that line the liver’s blood vessels and cells that line small tubes in the liver which are known as bile ducts. The bile ducts extend out of the liver and carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder or directly to the intestines. These different cell groups can form several types of malignant (cancerous) and benign (non-cancerous) tumors.
According to the American Cancer Society, the are four primary types of liver cancer:
Hepatocellular carcinoma (hepatocellular cancer)
This is the most common form of liver cancer in adults. Most cases of HCC are as a result of either a viral hepatitis infection (hepatitis B or C), metabolic toxins such as alcohol or aflatoxin, conditions like hemochromatosis and alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency or NASH. Treatment options for HCC and prognosis are dependent on many factors but especially on tumor size, staging, and extent of liver injury.
Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer)
The ACS estimates that about 10% to 20% of cancers that start in the liver are intrahepatic cholangiocarcinomas. These cancers start in the cells that line the small bile ducts (tubes that carry bile to the gallbladder) within the liver.
Angiosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma
Rare forms of cancer that begin in cells lining the blood vessels of the liver. People who have been exposed to vinyl chloride or to thorium dioxide (Thorotrast) are more likely to develop these cancers.
A rare type of cancer that develops in children (typically younger than 4 years old). About 2 out of 3 children with these tumors are treated successfully with surgery and chemotherapy
Liver Cancer Symptoms and Signs
Like many types of cancer, liver cancer symptoms often do not appear in the early stages. As a result, liver cancer tends to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage.
The symptoms of liver cancer may be different for each person and any one of these symptoms may be caused by other, benign conditions.
- Weight loss not associated with changes in diet
- Decrease in appetite or a feeling of fullness after a small meal
- Nausea and vomiting not associated with other known conditions
- General weakness and/or fatigue that is persistent, ongoing weakness or fatigue
- Fever that is unrelated to other conditions
- Pain occurring in the upper abdomen on the right side or near the right shoulder blade
- Enlarged liver (hepatomegaly) felt as a mass under the ribs on the right side
- Enlarged spleen felt as a mass under the ribs on the left side
- Abdominal swelling (ascites) or bloating in the abdomen can occur as a mass forms
- Jaundice, which appears as yellowing of the skin and eyes. Jaundice occurs when the liver is not functioning properly
In some rare cases, other disorders may develop as a result of liver cancer, especially in the early stages of the disease. Paraneoplastic syndromes cause symptoms in other parts of the body. Having awareness of these symptoms may help with diagnosing liver cancer.
Some paraneoplastic syndromes related to liver cancer include:
- Hypercalcemia: High blood calcium levels
- Hypoglycemia: Low blood sugar levels
- Erythrocytosis: High red blood cell count
- Hypercholesterolemia: High cholesterol levels
- Gynecomastia: Breast enlargement
- Shrinking of testicles in men
Experiencing one or more of the symptoms listed above does not necessarily mean that you have liver cancer. As with most diseases, many of these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions. However, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to get checked by your doctor or healthcare professional to identify the cause and get treatment if necessary.
See below for updated news and information regarding Liver Cancer including new medical research, treatment options and advancements.
Latest Liver Cancer Treatment News and Research
Liver Cancer Diagnosis Research: RNA-based digital assay of circulating tumor cells may improve diagnosis, monitoring of liver cancer
Liver Cancer Research News: Unexpected Activity of Two Enzymes Helps Explain Why Liver Cancer Drugs Fail
Hepatitis News: Researchers Identify How Hepatitis C Virus Tricks Liver Cells to Block Immune Defenses