Liver Cancer: Risk Factors, Symptoms and Treatment Options

Within the abdominal cavity, the liver is the largest organ, and when cancer infects it, the disease should be detected early and treated vigorously to give sufferers the highest chances of remission. To do so, it’s important to know, thus recognize, some of the risk factors and symptoms as soon as possible. Depending on the progression of the cancer—among other aspects—there are several treatment options.

You and your doctor will determine which is best for you, but by understanding the basics, you will be as educated and informed as possible throughout the entire process.

First, it’s important to understand that the liver contracts cancer in two ways, either primarily (meaning the cancer affects the liver cells and the disease begins in the organ) or as metastatic cancer. Because the liver filters the body’s blood, it can be affected by any cancer carried in the blood stream or by cancers in neighboring organs.

Risk factors commonly associated with liver cancer are diverse, but some of these include prolonged alcohol abuse; hereditary risks, such as hemochromatosis—associated with excess iron in the liver; cirrhosis; long-lasting infection—often associated with hepatitis B; and diabetes. Most of these risks are connected with primary liver cancer, but many of the risks associated with metastatic cancer are similar to those associated with other types of cancer: smoking, obesity, as well as exposure to dangerous herbicides and toxins.

In order to identify liver cancer in its earliest stages, it’s important to know and recognize some of the symptoms. According to the National Cancer Institute, any of these may be symptoms of liver cancer. However, it is important to note that these symptoms could be triggered by other health problems, too. If you experience any of these, you should consult with your healthcare provider.

Pain on the right side of the upper portion of the abdomen

Heaviness, hardness or a lump in the upper abdomen

Swollen abdomen; excessive bloating

Appetite changes, such as the continuous feeling of being full or loss of appetite completely

Unexplained weight loss

Weakness or fatigue

Upset stomach, nausea and vomiting

Yellowing of the skin and eyes, pale or discolored stool, as well as dark urine from jaundice

Unexplained and persistent fever

If you are diagnosed with liver cancer, you should seek the most specialized treatment options immediately, and these can vary.

One option is radiofrequency ablation. RFA is performed using a small needle that is inserted through the skin and into the tumor, and it is then heated, essentially cooking and killing the tumor. This procedure is more successful when performed on a single tumor, smaller tumors and those caused by primary liver cancer.

Another treatment option is embolization. This is often performed in conjunction with radioembolization and/or chemoembolization. Embolization is a process used on many people, not just cancer patients, and entails the cutting off of the blood supply—you stop feeding the tumor, ideally. The tumor can then be hit with radiation therapy and chemotherapy to help maximize the efficiency of the treatment.

In some cases, the damaged part of the liver can be removed, but the risk of this treatment is the possibility that the remaining portions will not be sufficient to support the necessary functionality of the organ. Some liver cancer treatment specialists offer additional treatments that can help grow the liver prior to the operation to minimize this risk.

If you have cancer, especially liver cancer, or any of the major risk factors in your genetic background, you should be diligent about your screenings. Watch for symptoms, and explore all treatment options with your doctor to guarantee you receive the best care for you.

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