Primary liver cancer is an uncommon but serious type of cancer that begins in the liver.
This is a separate condition from secondary liver cancer, which occurs when cancer that first develops in another part of the body spreads to the liver. The rest of this article refers to primary liver cancer only.
Symptoms of liver cancer are often vague and don’t appear until the cancer is at an advanced stage. They can include:
Visit your doctor if you notice any of the symptoms listed above. Although they are more likely to be the result of a more common condition, such as an infection, it’s best to have them checked.
You should also contact your doctor if you have previously been diagnosed with a condition known to affect the liver, such as cirrhosis or a hepatitis C infection, and your health suddenly deteriorates.
The exact cause of liver cancer is unknown, but most cases are associated with damage and scarring of the liver known as cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis can have a number of different causes, including drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over many years and having a long-term hepatitis B or hepatitis C viral infection.
It is also believed obesity and an unhealthy diet can increase the risk of liver cancer because this can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
By avoiding or cutting down on alcohol, eating healthily and exercising regularly, and taking steps to reduce your risk of becoming infected with hepatitis B and C, you may be able to significantly reduce your chances of developing liver cancer. Read More About: Causes of Liver Cancer.
Despite being a common type of cancer worldwide, liver cancer is relatively uncommon in the UK, with just over 4,000 new cases diagnosed each year. However, the chances of developing the condition are high for people with risk factors for the condition.
The number of people affected by liver cancer rises sharply with age, with around 8 in every 10 cases diagnosed in people aged 60 or older, although it also affects many people younger than this. Around two in every three cases affect men.
Over the past few decades, rates of liver cancer in the UK have risen considerably, possibly as a result of increased levels of alcohol intake and obesity.
Liver cancer is usually diagnosed after a consultation with a doctor and a referral to a hospital specialist for further tests, such as scans of your liver.
However, regular check-ups for liver cancer (known as surveillance) are often recommended for people known to have a high risk of developing the condition, such as those with cirrhosis.
Having regular check-ups helps ensure the condition is diagnosed early. The earlier liver cancer is diagnosed, the more effective treatment is likely to be. Read More About: Diagnosing Liver Cancer.
Treatment for liver cancer depends on the stage the condition is at. If diagnosed early, it may be possible to remove the cancer completely.
Treatment options in the early stages of liver cancer include:
However, only a small proportion of liver cancers are diagnosed at a stage where these treatments are suitable. Most people are diagnosed when the cancer has spread too far to be removed or completely destroyed.
In these cases, treatments such as chemotherapy will be used to slow down the spread of the cancer and relieve symptoms such as pain and discomfort.
Because liver cancer is most often detected at an advanced stage, only around one in every five people live for at least a year after being diagnosed, and just 1 in every 20 people live at least a further five years.
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SOURCE: NHS UK