Treatment Guides

Diagnosis and Treatment of Liver Cancer

Liver cancer is a fairly uncommon cancer that affects the liver, which is responsible for but not limited to the following functions, regulating chemical levels, detoxification and digestion.

quick details
WHO IS THIS FOR
  • Patients who have been diagnosed with primary liver cancer.
PROGNOSIS
  • The prognosis varies on the stage and the type of liver cancer you have been diagnosed with. Earlier stages have a higher survival rate over 5 years, whereas for later stages, the rate is around 12%.
TREATMENT DURATION
  • The surgery can last between 2-4 hours.
  • Radiotherapy on average lasts for 4 weeks.
POTENTIAL RISKS & SIDE EFFECTS
  • Along with the general risks associated with surgery, liver failure, bile leakage, rejection of donor liver, liver abscess are some specific risks of liver resection and liver transplant surgery.
  • Radiotherapy side effects include: nausea, vomiting, fatigue, skin problems (such as redness, blistering or peeling).
  • Chemotherapy side effects include: hair loss, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, fatigue.
  • Microwave or Radiofrequency ablation side effects include: infection, pain, bleeding.
LIVER CANCER

Causes and Symptoms of Liver Cancer

Causes

Liver cancer can be of two main types:

  • Primary: This means that the cancer arose in the liver
  • Secondary: Meaning the cancer has metastasized from another part of the body to the liver

Primary liver cancer is more likely to occur in individuals whose liver has already been damaged by the following:

  • Cirrhosis
  • Hepatitis B or C
  • Genetic liver conditions such as hemochromatosis or liver defects present from birth
  • Obesity, extensive alcohol intake, type 2 diabetes, certain chemicals (vinyl chloride and thorium dioxide) and smoking are some other factors that may increase your chances of developing liver cancer

Symptoms

The symptoms associated with liver cancer are not very specific, and mostly appear at later stages of the illness and include:

  • Loss of appetite and involuntary weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain or swelling in the area where the liver is located
  • Jaundice
  • Fatigue
  • Impairments in regulation of chemical levels leading to conditions such as hypercalcemia, hypoglycemia etc.

Please note that the symptoms can vary between individuals and also among the different types of liver cancers. Additionally, for patients with cirrhosis and hepatitis B/C some of the symptoms may already exist, but will become exacerbated.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis

Liver cancer is diagnosed through the following methods:

  • A physical examination, where the doctor will focus on checking your abdominal region for any swellings or pain and will also check your skin and your eyes for any signs of jaundice. The doctor will discuss your medical history, ask you about specific symptoms you may have been having, any medications you have or are currently taking. Based on this initial consultation, further tests may be recommended.

  • Blood tests such as for checking the level of Alpha-fetoprotein which is elevated during liver cancer and other liver diseases as well as other cancers. It is also used to decide the treatment course for a patient diagnosed with liver cancer. Other tests include: liver function test, blood clotting test and blood chemistry test.

  • Imaging tests such as a CT scan, an ultrasound or an MRI scan to gain a deeper insight into the anatomy and check for areas where the tumor may be growing, and how aggressive the cancer is.

  • A biopsy, where the doctor will remove a small tissue from your liver in order to confirm whether it is cancerous or not. It is only performed when the results of imaging or blood tests are inconclusive or vague.

How is liver cancer treated?

Surgery
There’s two main types of surgeries:

  • Liver resection: This surgery is performed only when the cancer is not too aggressive and has not spread to other parts of the liver. The surgeon will remove only a part of the liver, and the surrounding tissue. The liver can regenerate, and you should thereafter be left with a healthy liver. Bear in mind, this will not happen if you have underlying conditions such as cirrhosis.

  • Liver transplant: There are certain criteria to be met for you to be eligible for a liver transplant. Your have 5 or less tumors < 3 cm across, or a single tumor 5-7 cm that has not grown over the past 6 months. In addition, you have to find a perfect donor match for your liver. If you suffer from severe cirrhosis, then you are not eligible for a transplant.

Microwave or Radiofrequency Ablation
Microwave ablation is carried out by inserting small needle like electrodes in the skin percutaneously, through a laparoscopic procedure or via open surgery. These needles then emit microwaves or radiofrequency waves that heat and hence kill the cancer cells, which leads to tumor shrinkage. This treatment is recommended for early stage cancer.

Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy works by aiming high energy waves at the cancerous cells. This causes the cancer cells to die and though the healthy cells sustain some damage, they can repair themselves. The treatment takes place over 4 weeks, in short sessions of 5 days per week.

Chemotherapy
Uses anti-cancer drugs to kill or shrink the cancer causing cells and to prevent the spread of cancer to other areas of the body. It is not recommended for last stage liver cancer.

What should I expect from this procedure?

Liver cancer is a fairly uncommon type of cancer, and can range in intensity. There are a variety of treatments available for the cancer when detected at an early stage, and has a good prognosis and success rate. For the middle stages, the treatments varieties diminish but there may be hope of curing the illness. For end stage liver cancer, the focus is not on a cure but on palliative care, and making sure that you as a patient receive assistance in alleviating pain and your symptoms.

Please bear in mind, that your medical history, your environment which includes family and friends, your lifestyle habits, genetics, the type and intensity of cancer you have, all play a role in deciding the course of your treatment. Many times a combination of treatments is recommended, and this may change through the duration of your illness. This is done so the doctor can ensure that you are getting the best possible treatment for your individual case.

How do I find the right doctor?

We understand that before going through a major treatment like surgery or radiotherapy, you may be feeling unsure and want a second opinion, or you would like to look for the top oncologist specializing in liver cancer, or for a clinical trial doing cutting edge research. For support with any of these queries and question, Qunomedical is here for you 24/7.

WHERE CAN I FIND A DOCTOR?

Qunomedical Health Managers have an all-round knowledge to find the right specialist for you. Learn more about Qunomedical.