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Liver Cancer - Overview

Liver cancer, or to be more precise hepatocellular carcinoma, is a malignant tumor that originates from the liver cells called hepatocytes. The liver normally comprises different types of cells. Apart from hepatocytes there are cells which create bile ducts, cells which create blood vessels etc. Hepatocytes account for 80% of the liver which makes them the most abundant group of cells in the liver. This is why the majority of primary liver cancers are actually hepatocellular carcinomas.

A major problem related to liver cancer is that it is not normally discovered while in its initial stages. Many people are diagnosed after the tumor has grown significantly and spread to other organs. The prognosis of hepatocellular carcinoma is not very good. In its advanced stages, the patients require aggressive symptomatic treatment due to the intense symptoms. Hepatocellular carcinoma usually affects people who are suffering from liver cirrhosis or with chronic hepatitis (B or C). There is also a connection between liver cancer and exposure to certain chemicals.

The liver is also a common site of metastases of many cancers of other organs. These tumors originate from different tissues and via blood stream or lymph nodes is spread to the liver.

The treatment for liver cancer is complex and can include surgury to remove the tumor and chemotherapy.

Symptoms and Signs of Liver Cancer

Symptoms and signs of liver cancer generally depend on the stage of the disease and the structures which are affected by the tumor.

In initial stages of liver cancer there are no symptoms or signs and the cancer can only be diagnosed accidentally during, an ultrasound, CT scan or MRI of the abdomen performed for other purposes. Once the symptoms and signs occur the disease has already progressed significantly and the chances of complete recovery are minimal.

One of common symptoms of liver cancer is dull abdominal pain in the upper right part of the abdomen. The pain may radiate towards the back and right shoulder. Furthermore, liver cancer leads to loss of appetite and subsequent loss of weight, nausea, vomiting and worsening of the primary conditions of the liver such as cirrhosis or chronic hepatitis. Ascites (accumulation of fluid inside the peritoneal cavity) is one more characteristic of liver cancer. In case a tumor causes obstruction of bile ducts inside or outside the liver patients develop jaundice. And there are several more non-specific symptoms of liver cancer such as fatigue and muscle weakness, frequent drowsiness etc.

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