Cancer occurs when the cells grow abnormally and also invade nearby tissues and eventually spreading to other organs in the body through the bloodstream or the lymph nodes. Liver cancer is the cancer of cells in the liver, also known as Hepatic Cancer.
Overview of Liver
The liver is located in the upper right part of the abdominal cavity, beneath the diaphragm, and lies on top of the stomach, right kidney, and intestines. The two sources that supply blood are hepatic artery & hepatic portal vein.
The main function of liver is to purify that blood that comes from the digestive tract, before transferring it to the rest of the body. And liver also secrete bile that carries away waste products from the liver.
Causes of Liver Cancer
- Liver Cirrhosis, condition in which scar tissue is formed in the liver.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
- Infection with diseases such as hepatitis B and C
- Birth defects in liver
- Fatty liver disease (accumulation of fat in liver).
Signs & symptoms of Liver Cancer
- Yellow discoloration of the skin and white portion of the eyes.
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea & vomiting
- Swelling in the abdomen
- White stools
- Pain in the upper abdomen
- Fluid in the abdomen
Diagnosis of Liver Cancer
- Blood tests
- CT Scan
- Liver Biopsy. A thin needle is inserted into the liver through the skin to obtain a tissue for examination.
Types of Liver Cancer
- Hepatocellular carcinoma- It is the cancer that starts in hepatocyte, main type of liver cell & is the most common type of liver cancer.
- Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma- This is the cancer of the cells within the bile ducts.
- Hepatoblastoma- Hepatoblastoma are cancerous tumour that starts in the liver.
Treatment of Liver Cancer
Staging of Disease
The treatment of Liver Cancer depends extensively on the staging of the disease. Staging helps understand the location, size and spread of the disease. Early stage liver cancers have very different treatment than later stage ones. Staging is done using CT scan, MRI, Bone Scan, PET scan etc.
Depending on the staging, the following interventions are considered:
Surgical options are generally considered for early stage liver cancers when the disease is still localized (has not spread to lymph node and other organs). Surgical options for treatment of Liver Cancer are as follows:
Surgery for tumor resection
In some cases the liver cancer and a small portion of healthy liver tissue are removed if the tumour is small and the liver function is good. The decision also depends on the location of the tumor in the liver.
In Liver Transplant, the diseased liver is removed and replaced with a healthy liver from a donor.
Localized treatment options
Certain treatment options are directly administered on the diseased part of the Liver. The localized treatment options for Liver Transplant are as follows:
The cancer cells are heated and destroyed by using electric current. This process is known as radiofrequency ablation.
Extreme cold is used to destroy cancer cell. This is known as Cryoablation.
Pure alcohol is directly injected into the tumour that causes the tumour to die.
Injecting chemotherapy (anti- cancer) drugs into the liver.
Tiny spheres containing radiation are placed inside the tumor to give radiation directly to tumor.
Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer drug that helps to slow or stop the growth of rapidly dividing cells that cause cancer. It prevents the growth of rapidly dividing cells by killing the dividing cells.
Despite its side effects, chemo is still the most widely used cancer treatment option. Unlike radiation and surgery which treats cancer cells at particular locations, chemotherapy drugs can kill cancer cells that have metastated (spread) to different organs in the body (Read more on: Chemotherapy)
Radiation Therapy is a kind of cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation beams to kill cancer cells to shrink the tumors. Radiation kills the cancer cells by destroying the DNA. Cancer cells with damaged DNA fail to multiply and die. They are then removed by the body’s mechanism (Read more on: Radiation Therapy)
Targeted drug therapy
Targeted therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses cancer drugs. However, it is different from traditional chemotherapy, which also uses drugs to kill cancer cells. In Targeted therapy, the cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that contributes to cancer growth and survival are targeted. Targeted therapy is generally used with chemotherapy and other interventions (Read more on: Targeted Drug Therapy)
Immunotherapy (also called biologic therapy) is a new type of cancer treatment where the body’s immune system is boosted to help the body fight cancer by itself. Immunotherapy uses substances made by the body or in a laboratory to improve or restore immune system function ( Read more on: Immunotherapy)
Palliative Care is specialized treatment to reduce pain and other symptoms of serious illnesses like cancer. Palliative care can be given alongside other aggressive interventions like chemo, radiation etc. It minimizes pain and improves quality of life for the patient.