Liver cancer occurs when cancerous cells form in the liver. Your liver is the largest internal organ of your body and is located under your right side ribs beneath your right lung. Recognizing the signs of liver cancer can help you get quickly diagnosed and develop a treatment plan. Primary liver cancer begins in the tissues of the liver. Secondary or metastatic liver cancer spreads to the liver from another organ of the body.
Liver Cancer Symptoms
Liver cancer can be difficult to detect in its early stages. As the cancer grows, patients can notice some of these symptoms.
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling very full after a small meal
- Nausea or vomiting
- Yellow tinge to your skin and the whites of your eyes
- White, chalky stools
- General weakness and fatigue
- A fullness felt under the ribs on the right side of your torso caused by an enlarged liver
These symptoms may be caused by other conditions and you should consult with your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
Liver Cancer Risk Factors
Some people diagnosed with liver cancer may have few or no risk factors and it is important to understand how your behaviors can change your risk of developing liver cancer. The following are risk factors for liver cancer:
- Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis occurs when liver cells are damaged and replaced by scar tissue. A cirrhosis diagnosis can increase your risk of liver cancer. In the United States, most cirrhosis occurs in people who abuse alcohol, have Hepatitis B (HBV) or Hepatitis C (HCV) infections.
- Lifestyle: Poor diet, lack of exercise, obesity, smoking, and heavy alcohol use can increase your risk of developing liver cancer.
- Type 2 diabetes: Patients with type 2 diabetes are more likely to be overweight or obese, which is a risk factor for liver cancer.
- Gender: More men than women are diagnosed with liver cancer and a man’s risk increases if he has liver disease, such as fatty liver disease. However, women can be at risk for liver cancer as well.
- Race/ethnicity: Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are more likely to be diagnosed with liver cancer.
- Specific rare diseases: Some diseases that may increase your risk of liver cancer are:
- Glycogen storage disease
- Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency
- Wilson disease
- Porphyria cutanea tarda
Liver Cancer Diagnosis & Staging
If a physical examination indicates the necessity of testing for liver cancer, your doctor will order further tests.
- Blood tests: Blood tests including a liver function test can detect any liver irregularities.
- Imaging tests: These include ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests may be ordered to diagnose fatty liver disease.
- Liver biopsy: A liver biopsy removes a sample of tissue to determine if it is cancerous. Doctors examine the tissue sample in the lab to determine the presence of cancer cells. Types of liver biopsies include:
- Needle biopsy: A thin/hollow needle is inserted externally into the liver to acquire a sample.
- Laparoscopic biopsy: A thin, flexible tube is inserted with a small camera to examine the liver surface and acquire samples of areas of the liver.
- Surgical biopsy: A surgeon removes a piece of the tumor or the entire tumor, including some surrounding liver tissue through surgery to examine in the lab.
Once tests determine a liver cancer diagnosis, your doctor determines how significant the cancer is and defines the stage of the cancer. This determines how much cancer is in the body and assists your oncology team in developing the best treatment plan to manage your case.