Liver cancer begins in the tissues of the liver, an organ that sits in the upper right portion of the abdomen, beneath the diaphragm and above the stomach. The liver has many functions. It helps store nutrients from food, aids with digestion, and clears toxins from the body.
Liver cancer types include:
- Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), also called hepatoma
- Fibrolamellar HCC
- Angiosarcoma, also called hemangiocarcinoma
- Secondary liver cancer, also known as a liver metastasis
Primary liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is a type of cancer that forms in the cells of the liver, which is located in the upper right section of the abdominal cavity. According to the American Cancer Society, in the U.S., about 42,030 new cases (29,480 men and 12,550 women) will be diagnosed with liver cancer per year, with the average patient being an adult male over the age of 60. Of the liver cancer patients diagnosed, approximately 32,000 will die from the cancer. Outside of the states, it’s one of the most common types of fatal cancer, responsible for roughly 700,000 deaths per year.
The liver, your largest organ, is responsible for three primary functions:
- Digest food
- Filter toxins
- Store energy
With cancer, over time, the cells mutate and break down, causing the liver to eventually fail. Left untreated, there’s also the distinct possibility of the mutated cells growing into a tumor and/or spreading to other organs in the body.
There are four primary types of liver cancer:
- Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) – Accounts for 75% of all liver cancer and is most commonly seen in long-term alcoholics. Cancer develops in the liver’s primary liver cells, hepatocytes, and then spreads to the stomach, pancreas, and intestines.
- Cholangiocarcinoma – Also known as bile duct cancer, accounts for 10% to 20% of all liver cancer.
- Liver Angiosarcoma – A rare form of cancer that occurs in the liver’s blood vessels. It’s difficult to detect and progresses rapidly, so by the time a diagnosis does occur, it’s typically already at an advanced stage.
- Hepatoblastoma – An exceedingly rare form of cancer that almost exclusively occurs in children under the age of 3. Detected in the early stages, this form of cancer is one of the most successfully treated in the country.
Causes and Risk Factors
Although the specific causes remain unknown, HCC is one of the few forms of cancer with easily identifiable links between behavior and development. Risk factors include:
- Aflatoxin exposure – Poisons from molds on improperly stored crops.
- Cirrhosis – Scar tissue on the liver, often caused by drinking.
- Diabetes – Blood sugar disorder.
- Extreme alcohol use and/or abuse – Leads to permanent liver damage.
- Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) and Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) – Chronic infection that impacts all organs, but especially the liver.
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease – Buildup of fat in the liver.
Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging
Unfortunately, the vast majority of cases don’t manifest signs or symptoms in the early stages. When they do occur, signs can include:
- Abdominal pain in your upper region
- Abdominal swelling
- Involuntary weight loss
- Jaundiced skin
- Loss of appetite
- White chalky stool
Preventative measures are far more effective than early detection measures for this disease. The best way to accomplish this is by changing behaviors linked to cirrhosis and chronic infection. Steps include:
- If you must drink, drink alcohol in moderation.
- Eat healthy, exercise, and maintain a healthy weight.
- Get vaccinated for Hepatitis B.
- Reduce the risk of Hepatitis C by being careful when it comes to:
- Knowing your sexual partner’s health status
- Avoid all intravenous drug use
- Go to clean and certified shops for a tattoo or piercing
Stages of Liver Cancer
There are four stages of primary liver cancer and each stage could require a specific treatment plan, surgery, or even a transplant. In brief, they are:
- Stage I – Single mass in the liver that has yet to spread to blood vessels.
- Stage II – Single mass in the liver that has spread to blood vessels, or multiple liver tumors that are less than 2 inches wide.
- Stage III – Multiple liver tumors, with at least one larger than 2 inches wide, or, cancer has spread into adjoining organs but not the lymph nodes or distant organs.
- Stage IV – Tumors have spread into the lymph nodes, or distant organs like the lungs, bones, and brain.
If you believe you or a loved one is showing liver cancer symptoms, do not wait to seek help. At Immunity Therapy Center, we specialize in holistic treatment plans for a variety of cancers, diseases, and other illnesses. Contact us today to plan your visit and see what treatment plan is best for you.
American Cancer Society. Key Statistics About Liver Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/about/what-is-key-statistics.html
Ringehan, M. NCBI. Viral hepatitis and liver cancer. (2017). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5597741/
Stanford Health Care. Liver Cancer Staging. https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-conditions/cancer/liver-cancer/liver-cancer-stages.html