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Understanding Liver Cancer: Types, symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment & prevention

Team AckoJan 17, 2024

The Indian Council for Medical Research's report has projected that by 2025, 3.1 million new cancer cases will emerge in India. And Liver Cancer is one of the top seven types of cancers mentioned in this report. However, Liver Cancer is curable to an extent if you take certain preventive measures and if the cancer is detected in its early stage. To understand it better, here’s an article that sheds light on the types, symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment & prevention methods of Liver Cancer. Take a look.




What is Liver Cancer?

Liver Cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the liver. The liver is also the largest organ in the human body, and cancer that affects this organ can be fatal. If cancer originates in the liver, it is called Primary Cancer.

Why is the liver important for the human body?

The liver is important for the human body because it performs the following functions.

  • The liver sends bile into the intestines to aid nutrient absorption, especially fats.

  • Alcohol, narcotics, and hazardous wastes are broken down in the liver and expelled from the body through urine and faeces.

  • The liver breaks down and stores many of the nutrients that are absorbed from the intestine that your body needs to function. Before being utilised for energy production or the synthesis and maintenance of human tissues, several nutrients must first be altered (metabolised) in the liver.

  • It creates most clotting components that prevent excessive bleeding when a person is injured.

Types of Liver Cancer

There are two major types of Liver Cancer — Primary and Secondary. Let’s dive deep into both of these types.

1) Primary Liver Cancer

As mentioned earlier, Primary Liver Cancer occurs when cancer develops inside the liver. Here are its types.

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC): In this type of cancer, the tumour can develop from a single tumour and continue to grow larger in size. The disease doesn't initially extend to other regions; it does so much later. In another type of HCC, the liver appears to develop numerous tiny cancer nodules rather than just one large tumour. People with cirrhosis experience this most frequently (chronic liver damage).

  • Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer): Cholangiocarcinomas within the liver account for 10% to 20% of all malignancies. These tumours begin in the liver's tiny bile ducts, which are tubes that deliver the bile to the gallbladder. But the majority of cholangiocarcinomas begin in bile ducts that are external to the liver.

  • Angiosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma: These uncommon malignancies start in the cells lining the liver's blood vessels. This type of Liver Cancer can occur in people exposed to chemicals like radium, vinyl chloride, arsenic, or thorium dioxide. These tumours typically go too far to be surgically removed when they are discovered. Although these malignancies are typically exceedingly challenging to treat, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may help halt the disease. These malignancies need similar care as other sarcomas.

2) Secondary Liver Cancer

Secondary Liver Cancer occurs when cancer develops outside and spreads to the liver. Here are its types.

  • Hemangioma: Hemangiomas, the most prevalent benign liver tumours, begin in blood vessels. Most hepatic hemangiomas are painless and do not require medical attention. However, some of them could bleed and may need surgical removal.

  • Hepatic adenoma: Hepatic adenoma begins in the hepatocytes and is a benign tumour (the primary type of liver cell). Most do not have any symptoms and do not require treatment. However, some eventually result in symptoms, such as a mass in the belly, pain, or blood loss.

  • Focal nodular hyperplasia: A tumour-like development made of various cell types (connective tissue cells, hepatocytes, and bile duct cells) is called Focal Nodular Hyperplasia (FNH). The FNH tumours can induce symptoms even when they are benign. They can be challenging to distinguish from actual liver malignancies. Thus surgeons need to remove them when the diagnosis is uncertain.

What are the causes of Liver Cancer?

The following causes may lead to Liver Cancer.

Gender Chronic viral hepatitis Race or ethnicity
Cirrhosis Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease Heavy alcohol Consumption
Excessive use of tobacco in any form Inherited metabolic disease Obesity
Type 2 Diabetes Tyrosinemia Alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency
Porphyria Cutanea Tarda Glycogen Storage Diseases Wilson Disease
Aflatoxins Vinyl chloride and Thorium dioxide (Thorotrast) Anabolic steroids

What are the signs and symptoms of Liver Cancer?

Some symptoms of Liver Cancer may appear as a direct result of cancer, while others could appear indirectly due to another health issue caused by Liver Cancer. The following table lists both — direct and indirect symptoms of this disease.

Direct symptoms Indirect symptoms
Unexplained weight loss, Changes in appetite, A feeling of being satiated even after light meals, Nausea, Diarrhoea, Heaviness in the chest's right part from a liver swelling, Heaviness in the left part below the chest from a swelling in the spleen, Abdominal pain, Pain in the right shoulder blade, Abdominal swelling or fluid accumulation, Jaundice, Itching Nausea, constipation, weakness, confusion, or muscle issues due to Hypercalcemia or high Calcium levels, Fainting or fatigue from Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar level, Gynecomastia or swelling in the breasts for women. Testicular atrophy or reduced size of the testicles in men, A flushed look on the face and body from high counts of Erythrocytosis, i.e. Red Blood Cells. High cholesterol

signs and symptoms of Liver CancerHow is Liver Cancer diagnosed?

The following tests and techniques can be used for diagnosing Liver Cancer, depending upon the severity of the symptoms of the patients.

  1. Medical history and physical exam

  2. Imaging tests

  3. Ultrasound

  4. Computed tomography (CT)

  5. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

  6. Angiography

  7. Bone scan

  8. Biopsy

  9. Alpha-fetoprotein blood (AFP) test

  10. Tests for viral hepatitis

  11. Liver function tests 

  12. Blood clotting tests

  13. Kidney function tests

  14. Complete blood count

  15. Blood chemistry tests

How is Liver Cancer treated?

The treatment for Liver Cancer depends upon several factors like exact location, the starting point (primary or secondary), size, growth rate, spread, current health condition, and the stage of cancer. Your doctor may advise the following treatment options by considering the factors.

  1. Surgery: You might be able to have surgery to remove Liver Cancer if it is detected early, is small, and has not spread.

  2. Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy kills cancer cells with the help of medication.

  3. Thermal Ablation: Microwaves or an electric current are used in thermal ablation to remove the tumour.

  4. Targeted Cancer Treatments: The goal of targeted cancer treatments is to halt the spread of the disease.

  5. Radiotherapy: In Radiotherapy, cancer cells are killed with the help of radiation.

How to prevent Liver Cancer?

Liver Cancer is preventable to an extent; this can be done in the following ways.

  • Limit alcohol consumption: The liver processes ethanol, the main ingredient in all alcoholic beverages.

  • Get a hepatitis vaccine: Chronic hepatitis infection is the most typical risk factor for developing Liver Cancer (hepatitis C and Hepatitis B virus).

  • Care for your fatty liver: The regulation of fat metabolism can be greatly aided by maintaining a healthy weight and making fibre-rich, fruit, vegetable, and whole grain-rich food choices.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some common queries and their solutions about Liver Cancer.

Is Liver Cancer curable?


Although Liver Cancer is usually curable, it can be challenging to treat.

How dangerous is Liver Cancer?


Liver Cancer is a potentially fatal disease that is one of the fastest-growing cancer types.

Does Liver Cancer cause pain?


Some individuals may experience pain from secondary Liver Cancer, especially in the upper right part of the abdomen. If you have Liver Cancer, your physician may prescribe pain medication. However, you should always consult your physician before using any over-the-counter medications.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.



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