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Liver Cancer

Definition

The liver is located in the right side of the abdomen. It stores and metabolizes nutrients. It also filters and stores blood. Liver cancer is the growth of cancer cells in the liver.

Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably, a mass of tissue forms. This is called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors. These tumors can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

Risk

Factors that may increase you chance of liver cancer include:

  • Sex: male
  • Age: 40 and older
  • Infection with the hepatitis B virus or the hepatitis C virus
  • Formation of scar tissue in the liver, also known as cirrhosis
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Malnutrition
  • Obesity
  • Exposure to an infectious agent, such as a liver fluke, which are found in southern Pacific countries
  • Hemochromatosis —abnormal collection of iron in body tissues
  • Hereditary metabolic disorders such as alpha-antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency and tyrosinemia
  • Exposure to certain chemicals:
    • Aflatoxin
    • Vinyl chloride and thorium dioxide
    • Anabolic steroids
    • Arsenic
Nucleus factsheet image
Liver Cancer Due to Cirrhosis
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Symptoms

Liver cancer can cause the following symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal pain and swelling
  • Nausea
  • Dark urine
  • Excessive itchiness of the skin
  • Confusion and increased sleepiness
  • Yellowing of the skin and/or the whites of the eye

Diagnosis

Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Biopsy

Your doctor may need to view images of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

  • X-ray
  • Angiogram
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Laparoscopy

Treatment

Surgery is the only curative procedure in liver cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can reduce symptoms associated with the cancer. They are not considered curative by themselves.

  • Surgery
  • Cryosurgery
  • Ethanol ablation
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Sorafenib (Nexavar)
  • Biological therapy

Prevention

To reduce your risk of getting liver cancer:

  • If you use needles to inject medication or drugs, always use a clean needle. Do not share needles with anyone.
  • Use condoms when having sexual intercourse if you or your partner is not in a monogamous relationship or if you don't know if your partner has hepatitis.
  • Have children vaccinated against hepatitis B.

 

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

Liver Cancer Screening

Liver Cancer Screening is recommended for patients with chronic liver disease and cirrhosis and with known diagnosis of primary colorectal or neuroendocrine cancer.