Healthy Living

What Are the Causes and Symptoms of Liver Cancer?

What Are the Causes and Symptoms of Liver Cancer?

Key Takeaways

  • The early symptoms of liver cancer are asymptomatic, so it is difficult to properly treat this cancer when diagnosed.
  • Factors that can increase an individual's risk for liver cancer includes herbicides, chemicals, smoking, contaminated foods, hormones, body weight, a history of diabetes, weakened immune system, and many others.

Liver cancer, or hepatic cancer, is one of the most common forms of cancer. It is caused by abnormal growth and division of cells of the organ. This cancer may develop in the liver or spread from other organs of the body. Many of the liver cancers are spread from other parts of the body and are referred to as secondary liver cancer. Those cancers that start in the tissues of the liver are known as primary liver cancer. Liver cancer is more common among men, when compared to women.

Of the different types of tumors that are found in the liver, many are benign, while few are malignant. Two major types of cancers in the liver include hepatocellular carcinoma and cholangiocarcinoma, which refers to the cancer that develops in the bile duct. Hepatocellular carcinoma is often found to develop in liver that has been damaged by different conditions, like birth defects, excessive use of alcohol, infectious diseases that affect the liver, and cirrhosis. The most common among them is cirrhosis due to alcohol abuse. Liver cancer is also found to be associated with fatty liver disease and obesity.

Some of the other factors that increases the risk of liver cancer include:

  • Herbicides
  • Chemicals, like vinyl chloride and arsenic
  • Smoking 
  • Food contaminated with aflatoxins, a carcinogen produced by mold
  • Hormones, like androgen and estrogen 
  • Body weight
  • History of diabetes
  • Weakened immune system
  • Inherited metabolic diseases
  • Certain rare diseases, like Wilson’s disease and tyrosinemia
  • Use of anabolic steroids

The early stages of liver cancer may remain asymptomatic in many people.

Signs and symptoms when liver cancer is present may include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Enlargement of the liver
  • Jaundice
  • Change in color of the stool
  • Swelling in the abdomen

Since symptoms appear only during the later stages of cancer, many people do not receive successful treatment. There are two common treatment options for liver cancer. This includes:

  • Surgery – Surgical resection of the affected part of the liver is one of the common methods to treat liver cancer.
  • Liver transplant – This is often recommended for people whose tumor is not larger than 2 inches.

In advanced stages, radiation therapy, ablative therapy, and chemotherapy are recommended to control the progress of the disease.