Liver Cancer: Symptoms and Treatment

liver cancer

General description

Liver cancer is cancer that begins in liver cells. The liver is an organ about the size of a soccer ball that is located in the upper right part of the abdomen, below the diaphragm and above the stomach.

Several types of cancer can form in the liver. The most common type of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma, which begins in the main type of liver cell (hepatocyte). Other types of liver cancer, such as intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma and hepatoblastoma, are much less common.

Cancer that spreads to the liver is more common than cancer that begins in liver cells. Cancer that begins in another area of the body, such as the colon, lung, or breasts, and then spreads to the liver, is called metastatic cancer instead of liver cancer. This type of cancer is named after the organ in which it started, such as metastatic colon cancer, to describe cancer that begins in the colon and spreads to the liver.


Most people have no signs or symptoms in the early stages of primary liver cancer. When there are signs and symptoms, they may include the following:

  • Weight loss without trying
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • General weakness and fatigue
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Yellow discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • White or whitish stools

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience any signs or symptoms that are worrying you.


Liver cancer occurs when liver cells develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. A cell’s DNA is the material that provides instructions for every chemical process in the body. DNA mutations cause changes in these instructions. One result is that cells can start to grow out of control and over time can form a tumor, that is, a mass of cancer cells.

Sometimes the cause of liver cancer is known, as in chronic hepatitis infections. But sometimes liver cancer occurs in people without pre-existing diseases and it is not clear what causes it.

Risk factor’s

Some of the factors that increase the risk of developing primary liver cancer include the following:

  • Chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus or hepatitis C virus. Chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus or hepatitis C virus increases the risk of liver cancer.
  • Cirrhosis. This progressive and irreversible condition causes scar tissue to form in the liver and increases the chances of developing liver cancer.
  • Certain inherited liver diseases. Some of the liver diseases that can increase the risk of liver cancer are hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease.
  • Diabetes. People with this blood sugar disorder have a higher risk of liver cancer than those without diabetes.
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. A buildup of fat in the liver increases the risk of liver cancer.
  • Exposure to aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are poisons produced by molds that grow in poorly stored crops. Crops, such as grains and nuts, can become contaminated with aflatoxins, which can end up in foods made from these products.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption. Consuming more than moderate amounts of alcohol daily for many years can lead to irreversible liver damage and increase the risk of liver cancer.


Reduces the risk of cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver and increases the risk of liver cancer. To reduce your risk of cirrhosis, you can follow these tips:

  • If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. If you decide to drink alcohol, limit the amount. For women, this means no more than one drink a day. For men, the limit is no more than two drinks a day.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If your current weight is healthy, eat a balanced diet and exercise most days of the week to maintain it. If you need to lose weight, reduce the number of calories you consume per day and increase the amount of physical activity. Aim to lose weight slowly, 1 to 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kilogram) per week.

Get vaccinated against hepatitis B

You can reduce your risk of getting hepatitis B by getting the hepatitis B vaccine. The vaccine can be given to almost anyone, including infants, older adults, and people with compromised immune systems.

Take steps to prevent hepatitis C

There is no vaccine against hepatitis C, but you can reduce your risk of getting the infection.

  • Know the health status of any sexual partner. Do not have unprotected sex unless you are certain that your partner is not infected with the hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus, or another sexually transmitted infection. If you don’t know your partner’s health status, use a condom every time you have sex.
  • Don’t use illicit IV drugs, but if you do, use a clean needle. Reduce your risk of contracting hepatitis C virus infection by not injecting illicit drugs. But if that’s not an option for you, make sure the needles you use are sterile and don’t share them. Contaminated drug paraphernalia is a common cause of hepatitis C virus infection. Take advantage of needle exchange programs in your community and consider seeking help to overcome your illicit drug use.
  • Look for safe and clean stores when you get a piercing or tattoo. Needles that are not properly sterilized can spread the hepatitis C virus. Before getting a piercing or tattoo, research stores in your area and ask staff members about their safety practices. If store employees refuse to answer your questions or don’t take them seriously, that is a sign that the place is not right for you.

Seeking treatment for hepatitis B or C infection

There are treatments available for hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Research shows that treatment can reduce the risk of liver cancer.

Ask your doctor about liver cancer screenings

For the general population, liver cancer screenings have not been shown to reduce the risk of dying from liver cancer, and they are generally not recommended. People with conditions that increase the risk of liver cancer might consider screening, eg. eg, people who suffer from:

  • Hepatitis B infection
  • Hepatitis C infection
  • Liver cirrhosis

Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of screening. Together you can decide if the screening test is right for you based on your risk. Screening tests usually include a blood test and an abdominal ultrasound every six months.

Written by J.Andrew


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