Liver cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Symptoms of Liver cancer

What is Liver cancer?

Liver cancer is a disease in which malignant or cancerous cells form in the tissues of the liver. Liver cancer can either start in the liver or start somewhere else and then spread to this organ.

The liver is the largest organ within the body. The most important functions of liver are the following:

  • Filter harmful substances in the blood so they can be transported from the body to the stool and urine.
  • Produce bile to aid in the digestion of fats from food.
  • Storing the sugar the body uses for energy.

What Causes of Liver cancer?

Liver cancer include

  • hepatitis B.
  • hepatitis C.
  • The consumption of large amounts of alcohol.
  • Suffering from cirrhosis.
  • Hemochromatosis.
  • Obesity.
  • Diabetes.

However, the exact way in which these factors can influence normal cells.

Cancers start when deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA in a cell is damaged. DNA is the chemical in each of the cells that make up genes. In addition to accumulating information about physical appearance, genes contain instructions on how cells work, when they grow, divide, and die. Oncogenes are the genes that control their growth and division, and tumor suppressor genes. Those that slow down cell division or cause cells to die on time.

“Cancer can be caused by changes in DNA that turn oncogenes on or off tumor suppressor genes.”

Certain chemicals are known to cause liver cancer such as aflatoxins, organisms. These chemicals produced through small concentrations of fungi. It is also believed that the hepatitis virus can damage DNA. Although scientists still don’t know exactly how the infection occurs.

“Liver cancer has many different causes. There is a wide variety of genes involved in its formation and development.”

A better understanding of how liver cancers develop? How will contribute to finding better ways to prevent and treat this disease?

What are the Symptoms of Liver cancer?

The patient may not have symptoms until the cancer is advanced, making treatment very difficult. Some of the most common signs of Liver cancer. Acording to the National Cancer Institute are as follows:

  • Notice a hard mass on the right side just below the chest cavity.
  • Feeling of discomfort in the upper and right part of the abdomen.
  • Swelling in the abdomen.
  • Feeling pain in the area near the right shoulder blade or the back.
  • Managing jaundice or yellowing of the skin
  • Ease of bruising or bleeding.
  • Tiredness or weakness out of the ordinary.
  • Frequent nausea and vomiting.
  • Loss of appetite or feeling full after eating a small portion.
  • Weight loss for no apparent reason.
  • Pale intestinal, calcareous, and dark urine evaluation.
  • Fever.

How Can Liver Cancer Be Prevented?

Although the exact causes of Liver cancer are not known with absolute precision. According to the American Cancer Society, a series of measures can be taken to combat the most common risk factors.

Avoid hepatitis B and hepatitis C infection

Since infection with the hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C is the most frequent cause of Liver cancer. The main way to prevent its occurrence. The most important measures to avoid contracting hepatitis. These include:

  • vaccination of hepatitis B,
  • avoiding the exchange of needles,
  • and the adoption of safe sexual practices.

Limit alcohol and tobacco consumption

“Cirrhosis is another risk factor that increases the chances of liver cancer.”

In addition to hepatitis B or C, the main factor causing cirrhosis is alcoholism. Drinking in moderation could reduce the risk of developing Liver cancer.

Cirrhosis is one of the most repeated risk factors. For the same reason, reducing tobacco use may decrease the chance of liver cancer.

Carry out a healthy diet

Preventing obesity through adopting healthy habits such as

  • following a balanced diet
  • practicing exercise could prevent the development of cancer.

Limit exposure to cancer-causing chemicals

Although most developed countries have regulations and agencies to protect consumers from certain chemicals such as aflatoxins or arsenic known to be cancer enhancers. There are still countries where these chemicals can occur in certain foods or the drinking water.

Treating diseases that increase the risk of liver cancer

Although many diseases that increase the risk of Liver cancer. Cirrhosis of the liver are hereditary. Therefore prevention is very limited, detecting and treating. These pathologies early could reduce the risk of developing liver cancer.

What Are the Different Types of Primary Liver Cancer?

Most of the time liver cancer is found, the origin of the cancer is not the liver but another area of the body such as the pancreas, colon, stomach, breast, or lung. However, these tumors are treated according to the primary site, where they originated.

The two most general types of primary liver cancer are:

1. Hepatocellular carcinoma

Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most ordinary type of primary liver cancer in adults. And the third leading cause of cancer death worldwide, according to the National Cancer Institute. This type of primary liver cancer, sometimes called hepatoma, follows different growth patterns.

Some originate as a simple tumor that develops and only in advanced stages does it spread to other parts of the liver. Others start not as a single tumor, but with many small spots across the liver.

2. Cholangiocarcinoma or bile duct cancer

These cancers start in the cells that line the small bile ducts, those that carry bile to the gallbladder and makeup 10 to 20 percent of cancers caused by the liver, as reported by the American Cancer Society.

How Is Liver Cancer Diagnosed?

Cancer is usually difficult to discover in its early stages. The signs and symptoms do not manifest until the disease is in its later stages. On the other hand, small liver tumors are difficult to detect by physical examination. Since the right ribs cover most of this organ. The result is that most liver cancers are diagnosed in their later stages.

“However, people who are at high risk of liver cancers, such as those with hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or cirrhosis. It can tested frequently to start treatment as soon as possible.”

The first step to diagnose liver cancer will be a questionnaire by the doctor. To determine the risk factors and obtain as much information as possible about the symptoms that the patient presents.

The specialist will then perform a physical exam to detect signs of liver cancer stopping in the patient’s abdomen, skin, and eyeball. If the specialist considers that there is any risk that the patient suffers from liver cancer, will send a series of tests to more accurately diagnose the problem. To determine the best treatment for the type of cancer that is present.

Some of the most frequent and effective tests are:


It is the first study that the specialist usually uses to examine the liver. It involves the use of sound waves to create an image on a video screen that shows tumors that may be growing in the liver.

Imaging studies

Obtaining images of the inside of the body using X-rays, magnetic fields, or sound waves.

Computed tomography (CT)

An x-ray study that produces detailed cross-sectional images of the body. It can provide accurate information about the size, shape, and position of any tumors found in the liver or anywhere in the abdomen.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Images obtained by magnetic resonance imaging using radio waves and powerful magnets that provide detailed information about the white tissues of the body.


A radiological study to examine the blood vessels in which a contrast medium is injected into an artery. To delineate the blood vessels while x-rays are taken. This test can be used to show the arteries that supply blood to liver cancer. It can help doctors decide to determine treatment.

Bone gram

This test can help detect cancer that has spread to the bones (metastasis).

How to Treat Liver Cancer?

A patient diagnosed with liver cancer. It will have several options depending on the type and stage of cancer.

“According to the American Cancer Society, it is most recommended to have the joint criteria of medical specialists in different fields such as surgery, oncology, or gastroenterology.”

These specialists will be able to help the patient to plan their treatment plan. This will have to take into account,

  • the stage of the cancer,
  • the health of the rest of the liver,
  • the possible side effects of the treatment,
  • the general state of health,
  • changes in the cure of the disease,
  • the extension of life or the relief of symptoms.

Based on all these factors, the patient and the medical team will have to choose between the following treatment options:


Surgical intervention, removal of the tumor or liver transplantation. It is currently the only reasonable possibility of eliminating liver cancer. If the operation is successful. The patient will have the best prognosis to overcome the disease.

Ablation of the tumor

This option consists of applying different treatments that destroy liver tumors without removing them. This technique is normally used in patients who have tumors that are small in size. One who do not consider the option of surgery because they are in poor health or have a limited liver function.

Tumor embolization

A procedure by which substances are injected to try to block or reduce blood flow to cancer cells in the liver.


It is based on the use of high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. It can sometimes be used to shrink tumors to relieve symptoms such as pain.

Targeted therapy

It consists of the prescription of several drugs. Other than those used in chemotherapy, which is being recently developed by researchers as the effects of cancer on cells are discovered. These drugs enter the bloodstream and reach all areas of the body, causing a wide variety of side effects.


It is the treatment with medicines that destroy cancer cells. These, like those for targeted therapy, are applied symptomatically. Through the bloodstream and reach all areas of the body. It can be useful against cancer that has spread to distant organs.

However, chemotherapy is usually not very effective in fighting liver cancer. It has numerous side effects.