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Liver Cancer

The Diagnosis | The Treatment | Questions

The Liver

The largest organ in the body. It is situated in the upper part of the abdomen on the right hand side of the body
Produces blood proteins
Helps to clot the blood
Prevents excessive bleeding
Maintains the balance of fluid in the body
Destroys harmful substances, such as alcohol and gets rid of waste products
Breaks down substances not used by the body, so they can be excreted in urine or faeces
Contains carbohydrates (sugars) and fats, so they can be used by the body for energy
Stores substances such as glucose and vitamins for use by the body when necessary
Produces bile, a substance which helps the digestion of food
The liver has an amazing capacity to repair itself. It will function normally with only a small portion of it in full working order

Two Different Types Of Liver Cancer
Malignant tumours of the liver have two very different types:

primary cancer, which means cancer starting in the liver itself
secondary or metastatic cancer, which means cancer has started in another part of the body and has spread to the liver.

Primary liver cancer is one of the most common cancers in tropical Africa, some parts of Asia, including the coastal area of China, for example Hong Kong, Taiwan, Guangxi and Vietnam.

Almost any cancer can spread to the liver, but the most common ones include bowel, pancreas, stomach, lung and breast cancer.

The Causes Of Primary Liver Cancer

This is a fine scarring of the liver which is due to a variety of causes including heavy alcohol drinking over a long period of time.
Hepatitis virus can also increase the risk of developing cirrhosis and later hepatoma.This risk applies only to chronic hepatitis B, C or D. Hepatitis A infection does not cause cirrhosis or primary liver cancer.
A rare condition, which causes excess deposits of iron in the body, may also lead to an increased risk of hepatoma.
A poison, found in mouldy peanuts and grain, may be an important cause of hepatoma in Africa and Asia.
Bile duct cancer
The cause of most bile duct cancers are unknown, but they do occur to a slightly greater extent in people with inflammatory bowel conditions such as ulcerative colitis.
Liver fluke
In Africa and Asia, infection with a parasite known as the liver fluke is thought to cause a large number of cholangiocarcinomas.

The Causes Of Secondary Cancer
The cause of secondary liver cancer is always a primary cancer situated elsewhere in the body that has spread to the liver. If cancer cells from the primary cancer have escaped into the bloodstream, the liver is a likely place for them to settle as all the blood in the body passes through the liver.

The Symptoms Of Primary And Secondary Liver Cancer

The symptoms are similar for both primary and secondary liver cancer. In the early stages there are often no symptoms.
Sometimes a vague discomfort in the upper abdomen which may become painful. This is due to enlargement of the liver.
Pain can sometimes also be felt in the right shoulder. This is known as referred pain and occurs because the enlargement of the liver stimulates nerves beneath the diaphragm (the sheet of muscle under the lungs) which are connected to nerves in the right shoulder
Loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea and lethargy are common symptoms
Some people may also develop a high temperature and feel shivery.
If the bile duct becomes blocked, bile will build up in the blood causing jaundice. This will cause the skin and whites of the eyes to go yellow and may make the skin very itchy. Jaundice also causes characteristic dark urine and pale stools.
Sometimes fluid builds up in the abdomen and causes swelling known as ascites

Liver Cancer in Hong Kong

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