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Liver cancer usually begins in the tissue or nodules of the liver, but can also occur within cells of the liver bile ducts. The most common form of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma, and typically begins as a single tumor. The exact causes of liver cancer are unknown. Some symptoms for liver cancer are similar to other cancers and non-cancer related illnesses, which can make liver cancer difficult to detect and diagnose.
- In 2012, approximately 28,720 new cases of liver cancer are expected to be diagnosed and approximately 20,550 people are expected to die from liver cancer in the United States.
- This year, 2,197 Texans are expected to be diagnosed with liver cancer and an estimated 1,768 will die from the disease.
- Liver cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths globally.
- Cirrhosis: Many people who develop liver cancer show signs of cirrhosis, a disease that scars liver cells. Liver cells that are damaged from cirrhosis have a greater risk of developing liver cancer.
- Alcohol: Heavy alcohol use is linked to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
- Obesity: Being overweight and getting limited physical activity increases the risk of liver cancer.
- Long-Term Hepatitis Infections: Hepatitis B and C virus infections left untreated over an extended period of time can lead to cirrhosis. These strains of hepatitis spread through unprotected sex, used needles, and childbirth.
- Diabetes: People with type 2 diabetes, especially those who consume high amounts of alcohol or have viral hepatitis, face an increased risk for liver cancer.
- Exposure: People who live or work in certain conditions where they are exposed to thorotrast, arsenic, and aflatoxins have an increased risk of liver cancer.
Liver cancer is difficult to diagnose because symptoms often do not appear until the disease has progressed to later stages. Symptoms may include:
- Yellow eyes and skin
- Pain in abdomen, where the liver is located
- Nausea and vomiting
- No appetite
- Weight loss
While liver cancer is not preventable, limiting certain risk factors and taking proactive measures can decrease the incidence of liver cancer. To reduce the risk of the disease, men and women should limit alcohol intake, maintain a healthy weight, engage in physical activity, treat cirrhosis in the early stages, and avoid exposure to certain chemicals and toxins. It is also important to prevent contact with the hepatitis B and C viruses. The hepatitis B virus vaccination is recommended for all infants, children, and high-risk adults.
Treatment options vary, depending on the size, location, and stage of the cancerous tumor. Treatment for liver cancer may include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy. Surgery may include a liver transplant, if necessary.
Sources: American Cancer Society, American Liver Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Cancer Institute, and Texas Cancer Registry