Liver cancer is a type of cancer that effects the liver and the areas around the liver. The majority of liver cancers arise from the liver cells, and are known as hepatocellular cancer or carcinoma. Liver cancer can be a primary type of cancer, ie originating in the liver, or it may be a secondary cancer. A secondary liver cancer is a cancer that has spread from another part of the body. Secondary liver cancer is also known as metastatic liver disease, and is relatively common among cancer patients, as cancer often metastasises to the liver.
Worldwide, liver cancer is the third most common cancers, and typically has a very low survival rate. Liver cancer is very common in areas of south-east Asia and also in some areas of the African continent, but it is less common in western countries. It is thought that liver cancer is related to the high incidences of hepatitis B that can be found in these developing countries; in addition, due to increasing incidences of hepatitis B in the west, liver cancer rates may well increase.
The most common cause of liver cancer is damage to the liver through excessive consumption of alcohol, hepatitis B or C, or through exposure to some types of chemicals or drugs such as steroids. Diabetes and obesity may also be risk factors for liver cancer. The early signs of liver cancer are difficult to identity, and tend to be non-specific, meaning that they could be symptoms of another type of illness. In fact, noticeable cancer symptoms tend only to occur once the cancer has become very large. Abdominal pain and cramping as well as unintended weight loss, particularly in the arms and legs, are signs of liver cancer. Jaundice is also another warning sign of cancer of the liver.
Liver cancer treatment types depend on the type of liver cancer, the stage of the cancer, and also the health of the patient. Liver transplants are viable if the tumour is very small and the patient is healthy; surgical removal of the tumour can also be beneficial in some patients. However, many patients with liver cancer tend to have cirrhosis of the liver, and this means that their chances of surviving such a procedure would be low. Other types of treatment for liver cancer, such as chemotherapy, tend not to be highly efficacious. Liver cancer has a tendency to recur even after successful treatment, or to develop in several areas at once. Alternative therapies, however, may offer some benefit for improving the life of a patient with liver cancer; more information about alternative therapies can be found on this site.