Today, liver cancer remains the 5th most common type of cancer. Liver Cancer Awareness Month aims to educate people each year about the importance of early detection of Liver Cancer and to promote a healthier lifestyle to help avoid future complications associated with the liver.
What is liver cancer?
Liver cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells form in the liver, an organ that plays a major role in digestion, metabolism and detoxification in the human body. These cancerous cells do not function normally and may divide uncontrollably, crowding out healthy liver cancer cells and possibly invading other organs in the body.
What are the risk factors?
Factors that can elevate risk for liver cancer include:
- Alcohol- Heavy alcohol use, especially over a long time, increases liver cancer risk.
- Aflatoxin-tainted foods: Aflatoxin is a harmful compound produced by a fungus that grows in improperly stored grains and nuts-particularly in hot and humid environments. Consuming this toxin can increase one’s liver cancer risk.
- Diseases and conditions that increase liver cancer risk include:
- Hepatitis B or C infection
- Cirrhosis: a chronic and progressive disease in which normal liver cells are replaced with scar tissues
- Hematochromatosis: a condition that causes excess iron to be stored in the liver
- Type 2 diabetes
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Ethnicity: Asians and Pacific Islanders have the highest risk of developing liver cancer, but the risk is also elevated for African-American, American Indian and Latino populations as well, compared to non-Hispanic whites.
- Gender: Liver cancer is more common in men.
- Tobacco use
Signs & Symptoms
The symptoms of liver cancer can be different for each person and any one of these symptoms may be caused by other, benign conditions.
In addition, symptoms often do not show up until the later stages of the disease, but sometimes, your cancer might be diagnosed earlier, when treatment is most likely to be helpful.
Some of the most common symptoms of liver cancer are:
- When present, common liver cancer symptoms may include:
- Weight loss not associated with changes in diet.
- Decrease in appetite or a feeling of fullness after a small meal.
- Nausea and vomiting not associated with other known conditions.
- General weakness and/or fatigue that is persistent, ongoing weakness or fatigue.
- Fever that is unrelated to other conditions.
- Pain occurring in the upper abdomen on the right side or near the right shoulder blade.
- Enlarged liver (hepatomegaly) felt as a mass under the ribs on the right side.
- Enlarged spleen felt as a mass under the ribs on the left side.
- Abdominal swelling (ascites) or bloating in the abdomen can occur as a mass forms.
- Jaundice, which appears as yellowing of the skin and eyes. Jaundice occurs when the liver is not functioning properly.
Many of the above mentioned symptoms are similar to other types of benign liver infections or diseases. In the case of liver cancer, the symptoms will continue to evolve and worsen as the disease advances. It is important to see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis if you have any of the above signs of liver cancer.