Malignant tumors that develop in the liver are called liver cancer. The liver is the body’s largest internal organ. It is responsible for carrying out many life functions, especially the removal of various wastes from the body, the absorption of various nutrients and wound healing. The liver, located in the upper right part of the abdomen, is also responsible for bile production.
Bile secretion helps in the mechanical digestion of fats and the absorption of various vitamins and minerals. The liver stores excess glucose (blood sugar) in the bloodstream when necessary. Thus, during times of hunger, it releases sugar from the stores into the bloodstream, ensuring that blood sugar remains at a constant level. Neutralization of various drugs and toxins is also carried out in the liver. If cancer develops in the liver tissue, it may damage the cells of this organ and prevent it from performing its functions fully.
Liver cancers are basically examined in two groups: primary and secondary. Primary liver cancers are types of cancer that begin in the cells within this organ. Secondary liver cancers are used to describe cancers that start in another organ and spread to the liver from there. This situation is called metastasis. Unlike other cells in the body, cancer cells can spread to different parts of the body after they acquire a malignant character. This spread usually occurs through the blood or lymph circulation systems. You can follow the rest of the article to get detailed information about liver cancer.
What is Liver Cancer?
Liver cancer describes cancer that begins within the liver. Although this cancer can occur in many different types, the most common type of liver cancer called hepatocellular carcinoma is encountered. Hepatocellular carcinoma develops from the main liver cell defined as hepatocyte. Apart from this type of cancer, there are also rarer types of liver cancer such as intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma and hepatoblastoma.
What are the symptoms of liver cancer?
Signs and symptoms of liver cancer include complaints such as jaundice, significant abdominal pain on the right side, right shoulder pain or a lump in the upper right part of the abdomen. In addition to these complaints, there may also be complaints such as weight loss and fatigue that are not specific to liver cancer.
During the course of cancer developing in the liver, complaints such as gallbladder obstruction, anemia and bleeding may occur. Since there is no screening test for liver cancer yet, it is very important to gain awareness about the symptoms of this disease.
Symptoms of primary liver cancer tend to appear in relatively early stages. Secondary liver cancers may not cause symptoms without causing major damage to the liver. The signs and symptoms that may occur during the course of liver cancer can be generally summarized as follows:
- unintentional weight loss
- Abdominal pain in the upper area
- Nausea and vomiting
- General weakness and fatigue
- bloating in the abdomen
- Yellow discoloration of skin and mucous membranes
- White, chalky stools
Liver cancer is a condition caused by mutation in the DNA of liver cells. Cell DNA contains genes for almost all cellular functions, especially the control of the cell’s life cycle and division rate. Mutations in the DNA structure can cause changes in the instructions of these genes, resulting in the development of uncontrolled cell division. As long as the division of the cancer cell continues, the course of the complaints it causes also changes. Therefore, being informed about cancer symptoms is very important for early diagnosis and treatment.
What are the Stages of Liver Cancer?
In order to plan the treatment of liver cancer, it must first be staged. This staging generally consists of four stages.
Stage 1: In liver cancer, tumor tissue is located within the liver and has not affected any other organ or structure.
Stage 2: In liver cancer, small tumoral formations are located within the liver tissue or a malignant tumor tissue is detected to have reached the blood vessels.
Stage 3: In liver cancer, more than one large tumor has affected the liver tissue or one large tumor has affected a large vessel.
Stage 4: In liver cancer, the liver cancer has now metastasized and spread to other parts of the body.
How Is Liver Cancer Diagnosed?
There are various methods used in the diagnostic approach to liver cancer. Blood tests are useful in detecting problems with liver enzymes. Imaging methods such as ultrasonography, computed tomography and magnetic resonance can contribute to detecting where the cancer is located. In addition to blood tests and radiological examinations, biopsy is a very effective method in detecting the nature of liver cancer.
Liver biopsy occurs when the physician takes a tissue sample by advancing a thin needle through the skin towards the liver. Following this procedure, the tissue sample taken is sent to the laboratory and pathological examination of the characteristics of the cancer cells is performed under the microscope. The biopsy procedure itself has risks such as bleeding, bruising or infection.
After the diagnosis of liver cancer is made, physicians stage the cancer before planning treatment. Staging can be determined by determining the size, location and spread of the cancer. Bone scans and radiological imaging methods are very important examinations in staging.
How Is Liver Cancer Treated?
There are many different treatment interventions that can be used in treatment planning for liver cancer. Physicians decide which treatment method is most suitable for the individual by taking into consideration many different characteristics of the patient. Factors such as the location, size and number of the tumor, the extent to which liver functions are affected, the presence of cirrhosis or whether the cancer has spread to other body parts are taken into consideration before treatment planning. When all these factors are evaluated and treatment is started, surgical treatment methods are among the primary methods that can be applied:
- In the procedure called partial hepatectomy, the affected part of the liver is surgically removed. This surgery can generally be performed in liver cancers detected at an early stage. Over time, healthy liver tissue can complete itself.
- Liver transplantation is the transfer of a liver from a suitable donor to the patient. Treatment interventions with transplant may be preferred, especially in non-metastatic cases. After transplantation, patients must use medication to delay rejection for life.
- Another treatment method called ablation aims to destroy the tissue that forms liver cancer through applications such as ethanol injections, cooling or heating. This procedure is usually performed under local anesthesia and the relevant area is anesthetized to prevent the person from feeling pain during the procedure.
- Radiotherapy applications, which aim to eliminate cancer cells with high-energy radiofrequency waves, are examined in two groups: internal and external. In external beam radiotherapy, the area where the cancer is located is targeted from the outside and bombarded with high-energy beams. In internal beam radiotherapy, a small amount of a radioactive material is deposited near or directly into the area where the cancer is located.
- The treatment procedure called chemotherapy aims to eliminate the cells that form liver cancer with the help of strong chemical drugs.
- Targeted therapy applications are methods used to block the properties of cancer tissue such as growth and blood supply. Unlike methods such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, targeted treatments separate healthy cells from cancer cells.
- In addition to these treatment methods, immunotherapy interventions may also be beneficial for some individuals.
Liver cancer is a type of cancer for which various treatment interventions can generally be applied. To get more detailed information about this type of cancer, you can contact health institutions and get support from specialist physicians.