The liver is the largest organ in the body and performs many important functions to keep a person healthy. Liver cancer is more common in males than females, with males more than twice as likely to develop liver cancer over a lifetime.
Liver cancer can arise in two ways:
Primary liver cancer (most commonly hepatocellular carcinoma) originates in the liver. Metastatic liver cancer results from the spread (metastasis) of cancer from other areas of the body.
Many cases of liver cancer are metastatic liver cancer, due to the fact that the liver has two blood supplies, thus facilitating the spread of cancer from other organs. In these cases, the other organ is considered the primary site of the cancer.
Hepatocellular Carcinoma: The most common form in adults begins in the hepatocytes, the main type of liver cell. Approximately 75 percent of primary liver cancers are of this type. This type of cancer can have different growth patterns. Some begin as a single tumor that grows large and later spreads to other parts of the liver. However, this type of cancer may also begin in many spots throughout the liver and not as a single tumor. This is most often seen in people with liver cirrhosis and is the most common pattern seen in the United States.
Cholangiocarcinomas: These tumors account for approximately 10-20 percent of cases of liver cancer. These cancers start in the small tubes that carry bile to the gallbladder (called bile ducts). Consequently, cholangiocarcinomas are often referred to as bile duct cancer.
Angiosarcomas and Hemangiosarcomas: These tumors are rare forms of cancer that begin in the blood vessels of the liver and grow quickly. Often by the time they are found they are too widespread to be removed.
In its early stages, liver cancer is difficult to detect, which is why it’s sometimes known as the “silent disease.” As the tumor grows, symptoms may include the following:
- Sudden or unexpected weight loss
- Pain in the right side of the upper abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive fatigue or weakness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Jaundice – yellow skin and eyes, dark urine.
These symptoms do not necessarily confirm the definite presence of liver cancer. However, anyone experiencing any of the symptoms should contact their doctor immediately.