Monday, October 22, 2012

What are the Symptoms of Liver Cancer?

(Image credit © to ‘Getty Images’)
As the name implies, liver cancer or ‘hepatocellular carcinoma’ is a kind of cancer than begins and occurs in the liver. And when people are talking about this disease, ‘what are the symptoms of the disease’ is one of the most frequently asked questions. Unfortunately the signs, particularly for the early signs of the disease are very vague. In other words, there is almost no unique or specific symptom that can tell you when you have liver cancer at early stage – many symptoms that occur may also be caused by other health problems.

Before continuing, you might also like to know more about best foods to prevent cancer and cancer symptoms often ignored by women!

A liver cancer at early stage is much easier to be treated and better in prognosis than others that are diagnosed at later stages. Therefore, it’s important to find and diagnose the disease as earlier as possible. What else you need to know?

The crucial functions of liver for your body

The cells of cancer in the liver are also able to spread into the bloodstream, why?

As well we know that liver is important for the body to convert nutrients absorbed from your digestive tract to be ready-to-use properties by continuously filtering blood that revolves /circulates through your body. Therefore, we can say that all blood will pass through liver, and that’s why of there is a chance for cancer in the liver to travel and spread into the bloodstream.

Furthermore, liver also perform other crucial functions for the body, such as; for removing unfriendly chemical waste products and toxins from the blood and preparing them for excretion, helping to maintain blood clotting, digesting fats & proteins, etc! 

What is definition of liver cancer?

First, you need to clearly understand that not all cells of cancer that affect or attack liver are considered liver cancer (primary type).

For instance, cancer that starts from other organs (like in the lung, colon, etc) which then spreads to the liver is often called as metastatic cancer (secondary liver cancer). This kind of cancer is usually named from the organ /part of the body in which it began (like metastatic lung cancer is used to describe a cancer that begins in the lung and then spread to other parts of the body).

Liver consists of some different kinds of cells – but most of these cells (about 80 percent of the liver tissue) are hepatocytes. Therefore as mentioned before, a cancer that arising from the liver itself (primary type) is also called as hepatocellular carcinoma! Fat-storing cells, bile ducts, and blood vessels are other types of cells and components that can be found in the liver.

Image credit © to WebMD

In addition, there are some different types of tumors that can occur /form in the liver, this is reasonable because once again the liver itself is made up of many different kinds of cells. Generally these tumors can be divided into two major groups; noncancerous (familiar called ‘benign’), and cancerous (‘malignant’) which can spread to other organs of the body.

In many cases, benign is relatively easier to be treated than malignant or cancerous tumor. Therefore, the successful rate of the treatment and prognosis of patient is also influenced by the type of tumor.

Liver cancer statistics

In fact, this kind of cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world and even it is the 3rd common cause of cancer-related mortality. Read also liver cancer stages and prognosis!

Although it is less common in the U.S and UK, but the rates of diagnosis of this disease are increasing in both countries – according to an article published on WebMD and NHS.

In many countries, secondary type is more common than primary type. And for primary type, it affects about twice as many men as women in the U.S -- with elderly (at average age of 67) is at the most high risk.

And in the UK, about 2,750 new cases of people diagnosed with the disease are reported each year – with about 40 percent of these cases affect women and 60 percent affect men. Though it is a rare but it is a kind of serious cancer that can be potentially life-threatening.

The disease is relatively more common in the following countries:
  1. China
  2. Mongolia
  3. Countries of South East Asia
  4. Countries of central and western Africa
How do you get liver cancer?

The cancer occurs when the normal & healthy cells in the liver develop mutations /changes in their DNA (a crucial material of the body that provides crucial instructions for each chemical process). See also treatment options for liver cancer!

DNA mutations then will lead to changes / alterations in these instructions. As a result, there is a change to result abnormal cells that grow out of control which then will create a tumor (a mass of abnormal cells).

What are causes of liver cancer? Unfortunately, the exact cause of the disease is not known. But some factors that increase the risk of the disease are known. Generally, your risk increases as you age (about 70 percent of all liver cancer cases affects individuals who are over the age of 65).

Other factors or conditions that put you at higher risk of developing liver cancer may include:
  1. Being overweight. Having unhealthy body mass index will increase your risk!
  2. Excessively exposure to certain unfriendly substance, particularly such as aflatoxins. In fact, many foods contaminated with aflatoxins are relative easier to be found in many countries where liver cancer is also more common.  
  3. Having a family history of certain liver disease, such as Wilson’s disease and hemochromatosis.
  4. Having a health condition (such as cirrhosis) that can lead to scar tissue in the liver. 
  5. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease also can increase the risk of liver cancer, because an accumulation of fat that accumulates in the liver will increase the chance of cancer cells to form in the liver.
  6. Some studies found that individual with blood sugar problem (such as diabetes) are higher risk of liver cancer than others who do not have any blood sugar disorder.
  7. Excessively consumptions of alcohol. Consuming too much alcohol in long term can cause an irreversible damage in the liver.
  8. Having a chronic HCV (hepatitis C virus) or HBV (hepatitis B virus) infection also can increase the risk! According to a NHS report, hepatitis B infection is pretty common in certain countries of Asia and Africa where people diagnosed with liver cancer are also common.
Liver cancer symptoms in women and men

In many cases, the disease usually doesn't cause any initial symptom. But if the symptoms do occur at early stage, as mentioned before many of them are very vague (such as night sweats, fever, fatigue, or chills).

The common signs and symptoms of liver cancer that may occur include:

Changes in skin, eyes, urine and stools!

Cancer cells in the liver can spread and affects other parts of the body, including the bile duct. And this can significantly affect the performance of the bile duct to drain away from the liver, which then will lead to the bile’s yellow pigment to be excreted through the patient’s kidney.

If this problem occurs, patient may get changes in urine (color of urine is dark) and experience pale colored stools (white –chalky stools). Furthermore, another symptom what we call ‘jaundice’ may also occur due to the excessively accumulation of the bile in bloodstream. Jaundice is usually characterized by changes in eyes (whites of the eyes) and skin (a yellowing of the skin).

These signs are also vague. Having these symptoms doesn't mean that you definitely have liver cancer, because they also can be caused by other kinds of infection. However, if you experience any of these signs, see a doctor promptly to keep safe and to find a clearly diagnosis!

A swollen abdomen (tummy)

Patients with liver cancer may also experience a swollen tummy. And there are two major reasons to answer the cause of this symptom. First, the growth of cancerous tumor itself that get bigger in size which then result more pressure and swelling over the right side of tummy /abdomen.

And the second reason is due to ascites (a build-up of fluid in the abdomen) – this is caused by the congested liver. The liver that is congested can squeeze and affect the blood that flows to the liver, which then will create more pressure to the veins and then eventually cause the fluid to leak from these veins into the tummy. 

Furthermore, the fluid that leaks from veins into the abdomen may also occur if the liver is no longer to produce blood proteins as it should. Sometimes the veins may also get larger in size and even you may be able to notice these dilation veins underneath the surface of your skin.

Unexplained weight loss

Patients usually also experience a drastically weight loss as more than ten percent of their body weight! This sign may also be followed with loss of appetite.

Having a significantly weight loss with clearly reasons (such as taking a weight loss diet and doing weight loss exercises) is normal. But if you get it without known reason, you should ask to yourself whether there is something wrong with your body!

Other signs

Other symptoms and signs that may also occur include:
  1. A high fever (100.4 degree Fahrenheit /38 degree Celsius -- or higher) that may also be followed with sweating.
  2. General fatigue and weakness.
  3. Nausea and vomiting.
  4. Itching that may occur all over the body.
  5. Patient may also experience bloated or feeling full quickly after eating, even with a small meal.
  6. General sudden worsening of health.

In addition, the symptoms and signs that occur usually also associated with the stages of the disease. Liver cancer at later stages is more likely to generate more noticeable symptoms than when it still at early stages.

*** If you in doubt to any symptom that you experience, don’t take a conclusion on your own. Consult more with a doctor for in-depth information and clearly diagnosis!