The liver is the largest gland in the body and the largest solid organ. It holds around 13% of a person’s total blood supply and continuously filters it, the other functions of the liver include:
- – Making enzymes & proteins
- – Breaking down food to turn it into energy
- – Controlling fat levels
- – Helps combat infections in the body
- – Manufactures bile
- – Stores iron, vitamins and other essentials the body needs
- – Manufacturing, breaking down and regulating hormones
- – Breaks down harmful substances like alcohol and drugs
The liver is good at repairing itself and can work well even when only part of it is working normally, Cancer of the liver can be split into two types:
- Primary: This cancer starts in the liver.
- Secondary: This cancer is when a cancer in another part of the body has spread.
More than half the people diagnosed with primary liver cancer have Cirrhosis: this is Scarring in the liver that prevents it from working properly. It can be caused by;
- – Hepatitis B and hepatitis C
- – High intake of alcohol over a period of time
- – Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- – Haemochromatosis
- Primary biliary cirrhosis
Signs and symptoms
When signs and symptoms of liver cancer do appear, it’s not usually until the later stages of the disease. Some people with chronic liver disease are often diagnosed before the symptoms appear, and in early stages as they usually have continuous checks.
When symptoms do occur, the most common signs and symptoms to look out for are:
- – Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- – Unexplained weight loss
- – Feeling full quickly
- – Persistent itchy skin
- – Swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen
- – Feeling a mass under ribs on left or right side (due to an enlarged liver or spleen)
- – Fatigue
- – Nausea/ vomiting
Other symptoms can include; enlarged veins on belly which are visible through the skin, abnormal bruising or bleeding and fever.
Some tumours in the liver can start to produce hormones which can cause unwanted effects such as;
- – High cholesterol levels
- – Low blood sugars (hypoglycaemia)
- – High red blood cell count
- Treatments & side-effects
If you’re diagnosed at an early stage, surgery may be used to treat the cancer. Unfortunately, if you’re diagnosed at a later stage, such as stages B and C, a cure is not usually a possibility, but chemotherapy can be used to slow its progression. If your cancer is at stage D, it’s usually too late to attempt to slow down the spread of cancer and a palliative care treatment plan may be recommended, as well as ways to relieve pain and the symptoms.
Surgery is only possible when the liver cancer is diagnosed at stage A. There are three types of surgeries:
- – Resection- Removing the affected area of the liver
- – Liver Transplant- Removing the whole liver and replacing it with a healthy one
- – RFA Radiofrequency Ablation- Using heat to kill cancer cells
Chemotherapy can be helpful during stages B and C to slow down the progression of cancer but not to cure it.