Liver cancer is also known as liver carcinoma ; this disease involves malignant tissue located in the liver. Although this disease is rather rare in western industrialized countries, the trend is increasing here as well. In Southeast Asia and Africa, however, liver cancer is one of the most common types of cancer.
What is liver cancer?
The signs of liver cancer are generally rather non-specific in the early stages. The liver cannot be felt in most healthy people. See AbbreviationFinder for abbreviations related to Liver Cancer.
Malignant tissue in the liver is also known as liver cancer. This form of the disease, which is quite rare in Germany, affects men much more frequently than women, with people over the age of 70 being particularly at risk.
A distinction is made between primary and secondary liver cancer. The former is when the cancer develops directly from the cells of the liver, while secondary liver cancer is metastases that spread to the liver from other parts of the body. This latter form of liver cancer is much more common.
One of the most common causes of liver cancer is liver cirrhosis. This disease, also known as shrinkage liver, is triggered by alcohol abuse and hepatitis.
Alcohol is the number one trigger for liver cancer. Certain medications can also cause liver cancer – some sex hormones deserve special mention here.
Gallstones, cysts and ulcers in the bile are also known to be able to cause liver cancer. Iron storage disease is the last known cause of liver cancer.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
The signs of liver cancer are generally rather non-specific in the early stages. The liver cannot be felt in most healthy people. Repeated feelings of pain in the upper abdomen, which can also radiate, and the feeling of feeling a swelling below the ribs should be presented to the family doctor quickly.
The same applies to loss of appetite and unwanted weight loss. Both can be signs of a problem in the liver. When the liver stops functioning as a detoxification organ due to liver cancer, yellowing of the eyes is seen in many patients. Yellow eyes should therefore be clarified promptly by a doctor.
The same applies to spider web-like spots on the cheeks and red coloring of the palms of the hands. Both symptoms can result from liver dysfunction. It does not necessarily have to be a carcinoma of the liver. However, spots on the face and persistent discoloration of the palms of the hands should be presented to a specialist.
Metastases to the liver are often due to a primary tumor that has spread elsewhere in the body. Cancer patients should therefore pay particular attention to pain in the upper abdomen and discolouration of the eyes so that possible metastases in the liver can be searched for immediately.
Diagnosis & History
The chances of a cure for liver cancer are greater the earlier the disease is detected and treated. Unfortunately, symptoms usually show up quite late and the cancer is already well advanced.
In the early stages, no symptoms are often recognizable, only gradually do loss of appetite, general nausea and pain in the upper abdomen appear. Weight loss that the patient cannot explain can also indicate liver cancer. In the advanced stage, yellowing of the skin and eyes can occur. If you have any of the above symptoms, you should consult a doctor as a precaution. However, these signs do not necessarily have to come from liver cancer, but can also have completely harmless causes.
A special form of liver cancer is bile duct cancer – an unmistakable symptom of this is dark-colored urine. In order to make the diagnosis of liver cancer unequivocally, a number of tests are usually necessary. In addition to a comprehensive physical examination, i.e. palpation of the liver over the abdominal wall, an ultrasound examination is also necessary.
In this case, the spleen and kidneys can also be visualized. The doctor will also take blood – this blood test can provide information about the iron concentration in the blood. If it is not clear whether it is primary or secondary liver cancer, a gastroscopy and colonoscopy may be necessary.
Liver cancer is usually a very serious disease. If left untreated, it leads to the premature death of the patient and can significantly restrict and reduce the quality of life of those affected. In most cases, the patients suffer from severe abdominal pain and also from nausea and vomiting.
There is also a loss of appetite and thus also weight loss and deficiency symptoms. Those affected feel weak and tired and also suffer from a greatly reduced resilience. Liver cancer can also lead to jaundice. Other organs can also be damaged by liver cancer, which can lead to kidney failure, for example. If left untreated, this also leads to the death of the patient.
As a rule, liver cancer can only be treated with surgery. However, the affected person is dependent on a donor organ. Whether the transplant will be successful cannot be predicted. Furthermore, those affected are also dependent on chemotherapy, which is often associated with various side effects. The life expectancy of the patient is usually significantly reduced by liver cancer.
When should you go to the doctor?
Pain or discomfort at the level of the stomach should be presented to a doctor. If the pain increases continuously or spreads further in the upper body, a doctor is needed. In the event of a drop in the usual performance, an increased need for sleep or a tendency to tire quickly, the affected person needs medical help. If the skin becomes yellow, irregular bowel movements or changes to the face, you should see a doctor. Yellow palms or discoloration of the eyes should be presented to a doctor as soon as possible.
Swelling in the upper body, a feeling of tightness in the chest or a general feeling of illness should be examined and treated. If changes develop below the ribs, a doctor’s visit is recommended. If disturbances in blood flow or heart rhythm are noticed, the observations should be discussed with a doctor. Interruptions in memory, a loss of appetite or a drop in body weight are also indications that should be followed up.
If there are emotional abnormalities or apathy, a doctor’s visit is recommended. Regular check-ups and check-ups with a doctor are generally advisable in adulthood. Since liver cancer can be fatal, the controls are very helpful for early detection. In addition, it is vital for survival to consult a doctor at the first signs and irregularities in liver activity.
Treatment & Therapy
Surgery is unavoidable for many patients with liver cancer. In this case, either individual parts of the liver are removed or the liver is completely transplanted, in which the patient’s own liver is replaced by a donor organ.
The therapy depends on the one hand on the type, location and size of the tumor, but on the other hand also on the age and state of health of the patient.
In addition to surgery, local therapy methods are also possible. These include, for example, obliteration of the liver as well as irradiation of the liver from the inside or contrast agent therapy. Treatment with tablets, such as chemotherapy, can also achieve good results in some patients.
Outlook & Forecast
The prognosis for liver cancer is given according to the individual health conditions. If the disease is noticed in the early stages, cancer therapy can help to alleviate the symptoms or achieve recovery. The treatment is extensive and associated with numerous side effects and risks. A generally healthy patient with a stable immune system and middle age has prospects of a cure. The older the affected person is and the more previous illnesses are present, the more difficult the course of the disease is.
If the liver cancer is already advanced, the chances of relief are reduced. If metastases have formed or if the cancer cells were able to spread through the bloodstream in the organism, there is often little chance of recovery. In addition to surgical interventions, there may be a need for a donor organ. For some patients, this is the only way to increase the chances of survival.
Organ transplantation is also associated with various complications. If the operation is successful, the organism must accept the donor organ. If this is successful, the chances of alleviating the symptoms increase. Lifelong treatment is necessary so that the functionality is adequately monitored. Despite the healing of the liver cancer, it can occur again at any time in the course of life for a new carcinoma. The prognosis is worse in the case of re-infestation.
In order to prevent liver cancer, one should pay attention to a healthy lifestyle. This includes in particular the moderate use of alcohol and the consumption of cigarettes should be limited as far as possible. Furthermore, the hepatitis B risk is to be reduced as far as possible – regular vaccination is recommended here.
However, not only prevention is important, one should not do without appropriate aftercare once the disease has been successfully defeated. The first follow-up check-up should take place no later than six months after the operation.
The type of aftercare depends on the outcome of the initial treatment. If the tumor cannot be completely removed, life expectancy drops dramatically. Aftercare then has a palliative character. This means that the patient receives support for the remaining lifetime. Pain medication is important in this context. But also a clarification of elementary life questions can be part of the aftercare.
If, on the other hand, the liver cancer was defeated in an initial therapy, the prognosis is positive. The danger of cancer formation should not be underestimated in the coming months and years. Doctors therefore arrange scheduled follow-up examinations with their patients. In these, a carcinoma should be detected in the early stages and then treated immediately.
This gives the best chance of recovery. In addition to avoiding a recurrence, the therapy of possible secondary diseases also takes up a lot of space. Symptoms can be alleviated with medication. Social and psychological problems can be discussed in therapies.
As a rhythm for aftercare, a three-month interval is initially recommended. This can be expanded from time to time if there are no findings. From the fifth year after diagnosis, annual follow-up is sufficient. The examinations consist of a magnetic resonance imaging, an ultrasound examination and a blood draw.
You can do that yourself
When liver carcinoma occurs, which is also known as liver cancer, it is important that the person affected can talk openly with their doctor about the therapy and chances of recovery.
Due to the physical discomfort, it is advisable for the patient to treat their own body gently. Regular rest breaks and sufficient sleep are of great importance. In addition, maintaining a healthy diet is important. A healthy diet plan should be drawn up together with a doctor or a nutritionist who also takes into account a balanced acid-base balance in the body. Drinking alcohol should be avoided completely as alcohol is harmful to the liver.
In addition to the physical discomfort associated with such a disease, the psyche is also heavily burdened. Psycho- oncologists, psychologists who specialize in cancer patients, offer such care. In addition, it can help the patient if he participates in a self-help group for liver cancer patients or for cancer patients. The exchange with other affected people leads to mental relief. The patient learns to deal with his situation and at the same time has several contacts with whom he can exchange information.