One of the fastest growing tumors, according to experts like Best Oncologist in Lahore is hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) or liver disease. This cancer starts from the liver and invades the bile ducts and surrounding organs. Read on to know more about hepatocellular carcinoma and its warning signs:
What is hepatocellular carcinoma?
Liver cancer or hepatocellular carcinoma can be primary or it can be secondary. Primary tumors are those which start from the liver cells called hepatocytes and grow rapidly. In the early stage, these tumors have a better chance of cure than those in the advanced stage. Hepatocellular carcinoma is commonest of the several types of liver cancer. Other examples of primary liver cancers include: cholangiocarcinoma andhepatoblastoma.
Secondary tumors of the liver are those that have spread or ‘metastasized’ from other parts of the body to the liver. This happens because liver is a highly vascularized organ and receives blood supply from the gut. Therefore, cancers of the colon, commonly spread to the liver. Other cancers that spread to the liver include lung and breast cancer.
What are the symptoms of hepatocellular carcinoma?
The symptoms of hepatocellular carcinoma include:
- Abdominal swelling
- Upper abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Generalized fatigue and weakness
- Clay colored stools
- Yellow discoloration of the skin due to jaundice
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling of fullness after a small meal
- Itching on the body
- Enlarged spleen or mass in the left side of the abdomen
- Enlarged liver or mass in the right side of the upper abdomen
- Swelling of legs
- Enlarged veins called spider naevi on the abdomen
- High serum calcium levels which cause constipation, nausea and confusion
- Enlargement of breasts in males, called gynecomastia.
- Shrinking of testicles due to changes in hormones
- High serum cholesterol
What are the risk factors of hepatocellular carcinoma?
The risk factors of hepatocellular carcinoma include:
- Chronic infection with hepatitis B and C: chronic HBV and HCV can increase the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma
- Inherited disorders of the liver: congenital conditions such as Wilson’s disease and hemochromatosis can predispose one to developing hepatocellular carcinoma.
- Diabetes: in comparison to non-diabetics, the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma is higher in diabetics.
- Cirrhosis: scarring of the liver due to any cause like alcoholism or chronic hepatitis C can increase the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma. Cirrhotic liver is often shrunken and small in size.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): in this disorder of the liver, there is deposition of fat in the hepatocytes and this predisposes one to hepatocellular carcinoma.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol: alcohol consumption more than recommended over many years can lead to irreversible damage of the liver which can induce metastatic changes in the liver and cause cancer.
- Aflatoxins: these are the toxins made by molds growing on stored crops. Examples of crops that get infected with aflatoxins include nuts and grains.
How is hepatocellular carcinoma treated?
The treatment options for hepatocellular carcinoma include:
Surgery: part of the liver that is affected by cancerous growth can be removed by the healthcare provider to get rid of hepatocellular carcinoma. Surgery is performed only if the liver function is good and the tumor is small. Following surgery, chemo or radiation therapy may be performed.
If the liver is badly damaged, liver transplant becomes an option.
Radiation therapy: high powered x-rays and protons are used to destroy cancer cells and to shrink tumors. Radiation therapy is carefully applied to the tumorous growths on the liver while sparing the surrounding healthy liver cells.
Chemotherapy: these are the intravenous forms of drugs given to kill the rapidly growing cancer cells.
Palliative care: for advanced tumors that have also spread to other parts of the body, palliative care is recommended to give pain relief to the patients. Palliative care specialists work with experts like Best Oncologist in Karachi for patient care. Palliative care can be started even while the patient is undergoing radiation therapy, chemotherapy or any targeted drug therapy.