Are you overweight? Do you drink a lot? Are you male? If you answered “yes” to these questions, you’re an ideal candidate for liver cancer – one of the most common forms of cancer in the world.
As its name implies, liver cancer affects your liver. This is a football-sized organ found in the upper right portion of your abdomen. It’s located beneath your diaphragm and above your stomach.
Liver cancer occurs when there are mutations in the DNA of liver cells. This causes the cells to multiply and grow out of control, forming a cancerous tumor.Most people are unaware of the disease because of the absence of early symptoms. When these appear, they include weight loss, loss of appetite, upper abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, weakness, fatigue and an enlarged liver. Your skin and whites of the eyes may turn yellow (jaundice) and you may have white, chalk-like stools.
Although the cause of liver cancer is often unknown, some cases have been linked to chronic infection with the hepatitis B or C virus. The usual victims are older men but in some developing countries like the Philippines, liver cancer can start between the ages of 20 and 50.
Other candidates for liver cancer are those with a family history of liver disease, diabetics, obese individuals, those with the fatty liver disease, and alcoholics. If you are exposed to aflatoxins from consuming contaminated corn and peanuts, you can also get liver cancer later.
Treatment depends on the extent of the disease. If cancer can’t be removed, your doctor will try to prevent the tumor from spreading and help relieve symptoms. Treatment options include the following:
Surgery – this removes a portion of the liver. This is called partial hepatectomy which is recommended if the tumor is small.
Liver transplant surgery – here the diseased liver is removed and replaced with a healthy one from a donor.
Freezing cancer cells – this is known as cryoablation and uses extreme cold to destroy cancer cells. The doctor puts a cryoprobe with liquid nitrogen on the tumor to freeze it.
Heating cancer cells – this is the opposite of the above procedure. In radiofrequency ablation, electric current is used to heat and destroy cancer cells. This is done by inserting thin needles into small incisions in your abdomen.
Injecting alcohol into the tumor – in this procedure, alcohol is injected directly into the tumor, killing cancer cells.
Injecting chemotherapy drugs into the liver – this is called chemoembolization and uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy the tumor.
Radiation therapy – this makes use of energy beams to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. As you lie on a table, a machine bombards the tumor with energy beams. In stereotactic radiosurgery, many beams of radiation are focused at one point in the body.
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