Liver Cancer

5 February, 2020


Liver cancer has reached epidemic proportions lately. Courtesy World Cancer Research Journal, the liver cancer incidence rate stood at 10.1 per one million people and the mortality rate was 9.5 per 0.1 million population in 2017. Cancer.net puts the estimated number of infected Americans at 42,220 with 11,610 females and 30,610 males. Notably, the incidences have increased three folds since 1980 presenting a serious threat to public health. The same resource indicates Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa to be the most affected regions.

Small liver tumours often go undetected until they gain mass. The reason being, the rib cage covers the liver to the point that tumours in initial stage go unnoticed even when screened.  Typically, there are no symptoms to indicate the presence of liver cancer until it gains criticality. However, in some cases, they present themselves early, alerting you to the risk looming large. Seek medical intervention as soon as any of the below-mentioned signs and symptoms begins to surface. Remember, the early presentation can increase the chances of recovery drastically.

The symptoms of liver malignancy can be broadly bifurcated into two categories – Primary and Advanced, depending on the growth and spread of cancer.

Primary Stage Symptoms:

  • Drastic weight loss
  • Struggling appetite
  • Mild pain in the abdomen
  • Painful right shoulder blade
  • Itching and acne
  • Constant Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent urge  to vomit
  • Unexplained swelling in legs
  • Tenderness and swelling in the belly area
  • Jaundice (skin and eyes turning yellow)

Advanced Stage Symptoms:

  • Frequent fever ranging from mild to severe
  • The feeling of nausea and urge to vomit becomes constant
  • Sex drive takes a beating
  • The appearance of a tumour, which can be felt from outside
  • Liver and spleen enlargement
  • Abdominal swelling due to fluid build up
  • Excessive fatigue, and weakness
  • Memory loss, mental confusion and even depression
  • Surfacing of skin lesions mimicking a spider in appearance
  • A sharp rise in Alpha-fetoprotein levels
  • Muscle issues surfacing every now and then
  • Re-occurring of fainting incidences
  • Shrinking testicles in males
  • Enlargement of breasts in females

Causes of Liver Cancer:

The liver is a football-sized organ tasked with filtration of blood, conversion of nutrients into readily usable chemicals and waste removal from the blood. Since blood is required to pass through liver, it is prone to metastasis. For starters, metastasis is a secondary cancer-causing process involving the spread of a malignant tumour from a remote site to a new one within the host body through the bloodstream. Besides being vulnerable to secondary cancer, the liver is capable of self-infecting as well. However, the primary liver cancers are rare, just 2 per cent of all cancers. Researchers indicate women to be twice as susceptible to primary liver malignancy.

The causes of primary liver cancer referred to as Hepatocellular Carcinoma in medical terminology, cannot be nailed down to a single source. They may include, but not limited to:

  • Alcohol abusers run a high risk of liver malignancies.
  • Drug abuse is yet another prominent risk factor.
  • Infections, such as hepatitis B and C often lead to this dreaded condition.
  • Cirrhosis, a chronic liver disorder disease characterised by degenerated cells, fibrous congealed tissue and inflammation, may give way to cancerous tumours.
  • Obesity and fat build-up in the liver is also a leading cause of liver malignancies.
  • Individuals born with liver defects are also ideal candidates.
  • Often parents pass on the vulnerability to liver cancers to their offspring.
  • In a liver with excessive iron, the chances of developing cancers run high.
  • Besides heart and respiratory disorders, smoking is also linked with liver cancers.
  • Prolonged exposure to Aflatoxins and Thorotrast may result in liver cancer.
  • Individuals using Estrogen and Androgen steroids are also susceptible.
  • Liver cancers due to arsenic and vinyl chloride exposure are also a common sight.
  • Diabetics beware, as excessive sugar levels in the blood may lead to liver malignancies.
  • Individuals with metabolic disorders are more likely to develop liver cancers.
  • Rare conditions like Wilson’s disease and Tyrosinemia are found to cause liver cancers.

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