LIVER CANCER AWARENESS MONTHS – Understanding Your Liver

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The liver is the largest internal organ. It sits under your right ribs below your right lung. Liver cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the liver. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common form of liver cancer in adults1.

Each year, over 34,000 patients are diagnosed with liver cancer in India, while around 33,000 die from it. It is 4 times more common in men than in women and affects people between the ages of 40 and 70.

According to Dr Saurabh Prasad, consultant medical oncologist, “There are several factors that can increase a person’s risk of liver cancer. The most common risk factor is long-standing infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV). Other risk factors could be age, cirrhosis, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, type 2 diabetes, etc.

Dr Saurabh Prasad, consultant medical oncologist further added that the risk of liver cancer can be prevented by – 1) avoiding and treating hepatitis B and C infections; 2) Limit alcohol and tobacco consumption, 3) Achieve and maintain a healthy weight, 3) Limit exposure to carcinogenic chemicals & 4) Treat diseases that increase the risk of liver cancer

It is often difficult to detect liver cancer at an early stage because signs and symptoms often do not appear until late stages. The test is recommended for people at higher risk.

  • Symptoms of liver cancer can be nonspecific.
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling very full after a small meal
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • An enlarged liver, felt like fullness under the ribs on the right side
  • An enlarged spleen, felt as fullness under the ribs on the left side
  • Pain in the abdomen or near the right shoulder blade
  • Swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen
  • Itching
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)

Other symptoms can include fever, enlarged veins on the stomach that can be seen through the skin, and abnormal bruising or bleeding.

Having one or more symptoms doesn’t mean you have liver cancer. However, if you have any of these symptoms, it is important to get them checked out by a doctor so that the cause can be treated.

There are many options available for the treatment of liver cancer.

  • Surgery: The best option for curing liver cancer is either surgery or a liver transplant.
  • Ablation: Is a treatment that destroys liver tumors without removing them.
  • Embolization: Is a procedure that injects substances directly into an artery in the liver to block or reduce blood flow to a tumor in the liver.
  • Radiotherapy: Uses high energy rays (or particles) to kill cancer cells.
  • Targeted drug therapy: Like chemotherapy, these drugs enter the bloodstream and reach almost all areas of the body, making them potentially useful against cancers that have spread to distant parts of the body.
  • Immunotherapy: is the use of drugs that help a person’s immune system find and destroy cancer cells.

The choice of treatment depends on the extent of the cancer as well as the profile of the patient and is at the discretion of the treating oncologist.

Reference:

  • American Cancer Society; https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/CRC/PDF/Public/8698.00.pdf accessed 9/23/20 at 12:18 p.m.
  • GLOBOCAN-2020 https://gco.iarc.fr/
  • Subrat K. Acharya; Epidemiology of hepatocellular carcinoma in India; J Clin Exp Hepatol. August 2014; 4 (Suppl 3): S27 – S33.


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