Liver cancer is classified as cancer beginning in the cells of the liver. The liver is a football-sized organ located in the upper right portion of the abdomen, beneath the diaphragm, above the stomach.
Though many types of cancer may form in the liver, the most common type is called hepatocellular carcinoma, beginning in the hepatocyte, the main type of liver cell. Less common liver cancer include intrahepatic, cholangiocarcinoma, and hepatoblastoma.
Liver cancer usually occurs when liver cells undergo changes or mutations in their DNA. The causes of liver cancer are sometimes unknown, such as the case with chronic hepatitis infections. In other instances, liver cancer develops in individuals with no underlying illness, leaving it unclear as to what causes cancer.
Other causes of liver cancer include cigarette smoking, responsible for more than 50% of cases; obesity, excessive alcohol intake, exposure to aflatoxin (a naturally occurring toxin produced by certain types of mold), hepatitis B and C infections, diabetes, and cirrhosis. Bile duct obstruction, which prevents bile from leaving the liver, may also cause conditions that increase the risk of liver cancer.
Certain risk factors make an individual more likely to develop liver cancer. These include:
Liver cancer occurs about three times more frequently in men than women. Liver tumors are also somewhat more common among males.
There are multiple ways to approach liver cancer treatment. Surgery is the main treatment for liver cancer. In some cases where cancer has not spread beyond the liver, a surgical procedure called a partial hepatectomy may be performed to remove all or part of the cancerous portion of the liver.
In cases where cancer has spread beyond the liver, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are often used in conjunction with surgery to treat liver cancer. For cases in which the disease has not responded adequately to these treatments, new treatments such as stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) and radioembolization may help shrink tumors and slow the spread of cancerous cells beyond the liver.
In some instances, a liver transplant may be required.
Perhaps one of the most important questions is what the liver cancer survival rate is. Liver cancer is one of the major forms of cancer in adults, and the survival rates for liver cancer are considered to be among the lowest according to statistics. However, there have been many significant breakthroughs in this area. This leads to improved chances of survival and what many doctors believe is a realistic opportunity for those diagnosed to live with—and even beyond—cancer.
The survival rate of Liver cancer widely depends on the stage and whether the individual receives treatment.