About the condition
Liver cancer refers to cancer cells found in the liver. The cancer cells can either arise in the liver (primary cancer) or are spread from other cancer sites to the liver (secondary cancer). It is one of the most common forms of cancer in the world. The type of liver cancer depends on the type of cells which become cancerous.
There are 2 main type of primary liver cancer: hepatocelluclar carcinoma (HCC) and cholangiocarcinoma. The most common form of liver cancer in adults is hepatocelluclar carcinoma (HCC).
- Hepatocelluclar carcinoma (HCC) – develop from hepatocytes (the main type of liver cell)
- Cholangiocarcinoma – develops from the small bile ducts (tubes that carry bile to the gallbladder) within the liver
- Hepatoblastoma – very rare type of cancer that develops in children
- Angiosarcoma or hemangiosarcoma – a rare cancer that begins in the blood vessels of the liver
Causes of the condition
For most cases, the exact causes are not clear. However, in some cases, the cause is known, e.g. chronic infection with certain hepatitis viruses can cause liver cancer.
Signs & symptoms
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unexplained fever
- Loss of appetite
- Upper abdominal pain
- Swelling of abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
- General weakness and fatigue
- Enlarged liver
- Yellow discolouration of skin and the whites of eyes (jaundice)
- Dark coloured urine and pale coloured stools
Diagnosis and treatment options
Test and diagnosis
- Blood test – liver function test (LFT)
- Ultrasound scan
- CT scan
- MRI scan
- Removal of a sample of liver tissue for testing
The type of treatment will be determined based on the cancer stage, cancer location, and patient’s general health. Surgery is the best treatment for liver cancer. However, surgery will be unlikely if the cancer size is large or has spread to other parts of the body.
There are a number of different types of surgery that can be used to treat liver cancer.
- Partial hepatectomy surgery – the partial removal of the liver.
- Lobectomy surgery – the removal of a whole lobe of liver.
- Liver transplant surgery – the removal of the entire liver and replacing it with another person’s liver.
For partial hepatectomy surgery and lobectomy surgery, the liver will be able to repair itself and can grow back to its original size within a few weeks. However, if the liver is cirrhotic, it cannot grow back. Therefore before the surgery is performed, the liver should be biopsied to determine its conditions.