About Liver Cancer
Liver cancer happens when normal cells in the liver change into abnormal cells and grow out of control. The liver is a big organ in the upper right side of the belly.
Most people who get liver cancer have long-term liver disease (also called chronic liver disease). Having long-term liver disease increases a person’s chances of getting liver cancer. The most common and most serious form of long-term liver disease is a condition called “cirrhosis,” which scars the liver.
Liver cancer does not usually cause any symptoms of its own. A few patients might have a lump or mild pain in the upper belly, feel full early on when they try to eat, or lose weight.
Others might have symptoms that are caused by the liver disease they had before they got cancer. Those symptoms can get worse or come back because of the cancer. They include:
- Swelling of the belly or legs
- The skin or white part of the eyes turning yellow
If you have these symptoms, tell a doctor or nurse.
If a doctor suspects a patient has liver cancer, he or she will do one or more of the following tests:
- Blood tests
- An MRI scan, CT scan, ultrasound, or other imaging test – Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body and can show abnormal growths.
- Biopsy – For this test, a doctor will remove a small sample of tissue from the liver. Another doctor will look at the sample under a microscope to see if it has cancer.
Liver cancer can be treated in different ways. Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer. It also depends on how healthy the liver is (in other words, how serious the liver disease was before cancer developed). The different treatments include:
- Surgery – Liver cancer can sometimes be treated with surgery to remove the part of the liver with the cancer.
- Liver transplant – A liver transplant is a type of surgery in which a doctor replaces a diseased liver with a healthy liver from another person.
- Ablation therapy – Ablation therapy is a procedure that can kill cancer cells in the liver. It does not involve surgery. Doctors can do ablation therapy in different ways. They can kill the cancer cells using heat, a laser, radiation therapy, or by injecting a special alcohol directly into the cancer.
- Blocking the cancer’s blood supply – Doctors can do a procedure called “embolization” to block off the blood vessel that sends blood to the cancer. This keeps the cancer from growing by “starving” it of its blood supply. Sometimes, the embolization procedure is combined with chemotherapy (“chemoembolization”) or radiation (“radioembolization”).
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.
- Immunotherapy – This is the term doctors use for medicines that work with the body’s infection-fighting system (the “immune system”) to stop cancer growth.