What is liver cancer?
The liver is a football-sized organ in the upper right part of the abdomen that plays an instrumental role in many metabolic processes. Its primary job is to filter blood on its way from the digestive tract to the rest of the body.
The American Cancer Society estimates 39,230 new cases of liver cancer for 2016. Approximately 72% of these cases are likely to be men, 28% women. Liver cancer incidence has more than tripled since 1980, reports the ACS, with increased prevalence in an aging Baby Boomer generation. Rates in young adults are declining.
It’s important to distinguish between cancers that originate in the liver and cancers that begin elsewhere. The majority of cancers in the liver start somewhere else, such as the colon, for example. In such a case, the cancer would be called metastatic colon cancer in the liver.
While some causes of liver cancer are understood (e.g. chronic hepatitis B or C infections), others are unclear at this time. As with other cancers, liver cancer involves the rapid division and replication of mutated cells. These cells may form a tumor, which can metastasize and interrupt proper organ function.
What are the risk factors for liver cancer?
Risk factors for liver cancer include:
- Being an alcoholic or drinking heavily for many years
- Chronic HBV or HCV infection (having both of these hepatitis viruses may increase risk significantly)
- Cirrhosis, the formation of scar tissue in the liver
- Exposure to aflatoxins (uncommon in the U.S.)
- Hemochromatosis, Wilson’s disease and other liver diseases
- Metabolic syndrome
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
Are there symptoms of liver cancer?
Liver cancer may cause the following symptoms. However, many of these symptoms are not especially unique and could be signs of other health issues. If you experience any of the following, see a physician for an evaluation:
- Abdominal swelling
- Discomfort or lump in upper right side of the abdomen
- General weakness/fatigue
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Unintended weight loss
- Pain in the upper abdomen
- White/chalky stools
How do you screen for and detect liver cancer?
At this time, screenings for adult primary liver cancer – even in patients with elevated risk levels – are not recommended, as they have not been found to cause a reduction in mortality and may pose rare but serious harms.
Oncologists at Jordan Valley Cancer Center use blood tests and other procedures to examine the liver and other organs in the abdomen. These tests may help in diagnosing liver cancer. Select a diagnostic procedure to learn more:
The Stages of Liver Cancer
There are several staging systems for describing the progression of liver cancer: The Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer (BCLC) system, The Cancer of the Liver Italian Program (CLIP) system and the Okuda system. However, The American Joint Committee on Cancer’s (AJCC) TNM system is the one you are most likely to encounter. Oncologists at Jordan Valley Cancer Center use the following stages to describe the cancer’s progression:
- T: Describes the number and size of primary tumor(s) and whether the cancer has advanced into local organs or blood vessels
- N: Describes the extent of spread into nearby lymph nodes
- M: Indicates whether the cancer has metastasized to other organs in the body.
These letters are followed by a number (0 to 4) that indicates severity. If severity cannot be determined, then the physician may use the letter X to indicate the severity “cannot be assessed.”
How do you treat liver cancer?
Providers at Jordan Valley Cancer Center take a multidisciplinary, integrative approach to liver cancer. By combining the skills and specialties of oncologists with diverse backgrounds, our health care team is able to recommend treatments that fit the patient – not just treatments that fit one physician’s particular skillset. Learn more about some of your options for liver cancer treatment in West Jordan, UT at Jordan Valley Cancer Center:
- Oral Chemotherapy Dispensing
- Radiation Therapy
- Minimally Invasive & Laparoscopic Surgery
The Patient Experience at Jordan Valley Cancer Center
Liver cancer can be a challenging experience for patients and their families. We believe our patients deserve all the support that is possible during the diagnosis and treatment process. That’s why every patient at Jordan Valley Cancer Center is assigned their own Nurse Navigator who can provide support, education and advocacy every step of the way. For more information about the patient experience, contact us at 801-601-2260.