Liver cancer is a form of cancer that starts in the liver, as opposed to secondary liver cancer which starts elsewhere in the body and travels to the liver. Most cancer that is found in the liver is secondary cancer, as many cells travelling around the body end up in the liver, making it more susceptible to liver cancer. If the cancer is a secondary cancer in the liver, it will be treated in the same way that the primary cancer would be treated, such as if it is secondary breast cancer in the liver, the cancer will be treated in the same way as breast cancer, as the cells are the same, only they have travelled to the liver.
Types of liver cancer
There are a number of different types of cancer that start in the liver. These include:
Primary and secondary liver cancer
- As previously highlighted, the liver is vulnerable to primary liver cancer, which means the cancer begins in the liver, or secondary liver cancer, meaning the cancer cells travelled to the liver through the blood stream from another cancerous part of the body. Cancer is treated according the primary type it is, so even if the cancer is present in the liver, in cases of secondary cancer it will be treated in the same way the primary cancer is treated. Most cancers found in the liver are secondary cancer.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)
- Otherwise known as hepatoma, HCC is the most common form of primary liver cancer. The cancer forms in the liver cells, called hepatocytes, and is more common in older men, especially those who have suffered with cirrhosis.
- This form of liver cancer is a rare form of HCC, and affects the fibrous tissue of the liver cells. Fibrolemellar is more common in younger people, and is not linked to cirrhosis or hepatitis.
Cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer)
- Rather than directly affecting the liver, cholangiocarcinoma develops in the bile ducts, which carry bile from the liver to the stomach.
- This is a very rare form of liver cancer, and begins in the blood vessels of the liver. It affects men and women, most often aged in their 70s and 80s, and only affects around 10 people per year in the UK.
- This is another very rare form of liver cancer, which usually affects young children below the age of three. There are usually only around 20 cases of hepatoblastoma per year in the UK.
Symptoms of liver cancer
The usual symptoms of liver cancer include:
- weight loss
- swelling of the abdomen
- pale-coloured or grey poo
- dark urine
- itchy skin
- high temperature
- worsening of health in patients with cirrhosis or chronic hepatitis.
Treatment of liver cancer
There are a number of different treatment options available for liver cancer, depending on the type of liver cancer it is.
The most common type is surgery, with removal of the tumour attempted at first. Liver function may be able to continue as normal if the liver was healthy to begin with.
Liver transplant may also be required if the cancer has developed in a large amount of the liver. The specialist may decide to use localised treatments such as chemotherapy, radiofrequency ablation, cryoablation, radiation therapy or drug therapy.
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