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What is liver cancer?

There are two main types of primary liver cancer (cancer that starts in the liver): Hepatoma (also called hepatocellular carcinoma or HCC) and billiary tree cancer, which includes, bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) and gall bladder cancer.

 

Secondary liver cancer is cancer that develops elsewhere in the body and then spreads to the liver. This is also known as metastatic cancer.There are two main types of primary liver cancer (cancer that starts in the liver): Hepatoma (also called hepatocellular carcinoma or HCC) and billiary tree cancer, which includes, bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) and gall bladder cancer.

Who is at risk of developing liver cancer?

We do not know what causes most liver cancers however having cirrhosis increases the risk of developing it. Anyone who has been diagnosed with cirrhosis should receive regular check-ups to test for HCC.

The causes of biliary tree cancer are not well established but it is more common amongst people with a condition called Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis.

What are the symptoms ofliver cancer?

It is common for there to be no obvious symptoms during the early stages of liver cancer. Possible early symptoms can include:

  • abdominal pain
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling and being sick
  • weight loss
  • feeling tired all the time
  • joint and muscle aches and pain
  • itchy skin

As the cancer progresses more serious symptoms may occur. If any of the following symptoms are experienced, medical advice should be sought immediately.

  • jaundice (yellowing of the whites of the eyes and skin)
  • fever with high temperatures and shivers
  • vomiting blood
  • very dark or black tarry stools

How is liver cancer diagnosed?

A physician will require blood tests and possibly an abdominal ultrasound scan. If the results of these tests indicate that a tumor may be present a referral will be made to a specialist who can arrange for further blood tests and imaging scans.

What treatments are available for liver cancer?

Treatment will vary depending upon the type of cancer but it may include:

  • Liver resection – where the part of the liver that contains the tumor is surgically removed. Following surgery the liver will grow back to its original size.
  • Ablation – where a needle is inserted into the tumor to deliver a means of destroying it such as high-frequency electrical current
  • Liver transplantation
  • Chemotherapy

Is there any support for people who have liver cancer?

In the UK Macmillan Cancer Support provide information and support on all aspects of cancer. They operate a free helpline and an online support community. For more information see their pages on primary liver cancer and Cholangiocarcinoma