What is Liver Cancer?
Liver cancer is a cancer that begins within the cells of your liver. Your liver may be a football-sized organ that sits within the upper right portion of your abdomen, beneath your diaphragm and above your stomach.
Several sorts of cancer can form within the liver. The most common type of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma, which begins in the main type of liver cell (hepatocyte). Other sorts of cancer of the liver, like intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma and hepatoblastoma, are much less common.
Cancer that spreads to the liver is more common than cancer that begins within the liver cells. Cancer that begins in another area of the body — like the colon, lung or breast — then spreads to the liver is named metastatic cancer rather than liver cancer. This type of cancer is named after the organ in which it began — such as metastatic colon cancer to describe cancer that begins in the colon and spreads to the liver.
Most people do not have signs and symptoms within the early stages of primary cancer of the liver. When signs and symptoms do appear, they'll include:
- Losing weight without trying
- Loss of appetite
- Upper abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- General weakness and fatigue
- Abdominal swelling
- Yellow discoloration of your skin and therefore the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- White, chalky stools
Liver cancer happens when liver cells develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. A cell's DNA is that the material that gives instructions for each chemical change in your body. DNA mutations cause changes in these instructions. One result is that cells may begin to grow out of control and eventually form a tumor — a mass of cancerous cells.
Sometimes the explanation for cancer of the liver is understood, like with chronic hepatitis infections. But sometimes liver cancer happens in people with no underlying diseases and it's not clear what causes it.
Factors that increase the risk of primary liver cancer include:
- Chronic infection with HBV or HCV: Chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV) increases your risk of liver cancer.
- Cirrhosis: This progressive and irreversible condition causes connective tissue to make in your liver and increases your chances of developing cancer of the liver.
- Certain inherited liver diseases: Liver diseases that can increase the risk of liver cancer include hemochromatosis and Wilson's disease.
- Diabetes: People with this blood glucose disorder have a greater risk of cancer of the liver than those that do not have diabetes.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: An accumulation of fat in the liver increases the risk of liver cancer.
- Exposure to aflatoxins: Aflatoxins are poisons produced by molds that grow on crops that are stored poorly. Crops, such as grains and nuts, can become contaminated with aflatoxins, which can end up in foods made of these products.
- Excessive alcohol consumption: Consuming more than a moderate amount of alcohol daily over many years can lead to irreversible liver damage and increase your risk of liver cancer.
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