Liver cancer, (primary or hepatocellular cancer), is one of the ten most common cancers in the world. It’s most prevalent in Asians, Native Americans, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders but can be found in any race.
Men also get it much more frequently than women and the age range where it’s most common is 50-60. Now that you know who’s most likely to get it, let’s discuss the most common causes, symptoms and prognosis of liver cancer.
Causes of Liver Cancer
There are several factors that are either associated with or known to cause liver cancer and fortunately, many of them are avoidable. Many of these factors are caused by lifestyle choices so simple changes in the way that you live can reduce your chances of getting liver cancer drastically.
The main cause of liver cancer by far is cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, which is caused by:
• Excessive, long-term consumption of alcohol
• Hemochromatosis (too much iron)
• Hepatitis B or C (even if there’s no cirrhosis, there’s still risk)
• Any disease that causes chronic inflammation
As you can see, there are choices that you can make that can reduce your risk of getting liver cancer significantly. If you happen to fall into one of these categories, it’s particularly important that you get screened regularly.
How Do I Know if I Have Liver Cancer?
There are several symptoms of liver cancer but frequently by the time you notice them, you’re already in more advanced stages. Unlike many of your organs, your liver suffers silently, trying in vain to heal itself until it’s too late.
Some symptoms of liver cancer that you can be on the lookout for include:
• Distended Abdomen (people commonly mistake this for a “beer belly”)
• Jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin and eyes
• Tenderness in your abdomen, particularly in the upper right quadrant
• Easy bruising
If you notice any of these symptoms, especially in combination, it is imperative that you get to the doctor; the faster you get diagnosed, the higher your chances of survival because liver cancer spreads quickly. Again, regular checkups are your best bet because you don’t want to wait until you’re symptomatic to begin treatment for liver cancer.
Most of the tests used to monitor for and diagnose liver cancer are painless and take very little time. Also, it’s common for your doctor to use more than one method, especially if you’re considered at risk for the disease. The tests include scans, ultrasounds, blood tests and a physical that includes feeling your abdomen to check for tenderness.
What’s the Prognosis for Liver Cancer?
There’s no getting around it; liver cancer is a bad cancer. It spreads quickly and the symptoms are practically nil until the later stages. Because only 10-20 percent of all liver cancers can be completely removed surgically, the prognosis for survival is poor if the cancer’s not diagnosed early enough to remove it.
Liver cancer doesn’t generally respond well to chemotherapy or radiation treatments alone but sometimes these methods successfully shrink the tumor enough so that it can be surgically removed. A liver transplant or surgery can be successful if the carcinoma is slow-growing and the cancer is diagnosed early, but as discussed above, that’s not usually the case.
In conclusion, there are new cancer treatments coming out that look promising for treating liver cancer but your best bet is to reduce your chances of getting the disease to begin with. Make changes to your lifestyle that reduce your risk of cirrhosis and hepatitis and get screened regularly. When it comes to liver cancer, an ounce of prevention is worth 10 pounds of cure.