Liver cancer is cancer that starts in the liver.
There are different types of primary liver cancer depending on the types of cells the cancer has developed from. These are:
- Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) – the most common type of primary liver cancer that affects the main liver cells; it is also called hepatoma; HCC usually remains in the liver, but it can spread to other organs; more common in men; there is a type of HCC, called fibrolamellar HCC that occurs in younger people and isn’t related to previous liver disease
- Cholangiocarcinoma – bile duct cells are affected and therefore it is also called bile duct cancer; more common in women
- Rare types of liver cancer: angiosarcomas (developoing in the blood vessels of the liver) and hepatoblastoma (in children under 3 years)
- Metastatic liver cancer means that the primary cancer started in another organ, but spread to the liver
The patient may experience no symptoms in the early stage of liver cancer. The symptoms are:
- Jaundice, which shows that the liver isn’t working properly because of cancer or another disease, such as cirrhosis; jaundice may occur if the bile duct becomes blocked by cancer, which causes bile produced by the liver to flow back into the bloodstream; jaundice shows yellow skin and whites of the eyes, itchy skin, dark-coloured urine and pale stools
- ascites (swelling)
- pain in the upper abdomen, due to liver enlargement
- loss of appetite
- high temperature
If you have any symptoms that you’re worried about, it’s important to have them checked by your GP. But remember they are common to many other conditions – most people with these symptoms won’t have cancer.
The cause of liver cancer is not known. The cause is known when there has been previous liver diseases, such as cirrhosis (most common cause for HCC) or chronic hepatitis viruses.
The risk factors for liver cancer are:
- cirrhosis, alcohol-induced
- hepatitis B or C infection
- inherited medical condition, such as hemochromatosis or Wilson’s disease
- exposure to aflatoxins
- taking anabolic steroids over a long period