Does liver cancer spread quickly?
Liver cancer can spread quickly depending on the type of cancer.
Hemangiosarcoma and angiosarcoma types of liver cancer are fast spreading, whereas hepatocellular carcinoma spreads late in the disease.
What is liver cancer?
Liver cancer, also known as hepatic cancer, is a type of cancer that starts in the liver. The different types of liver cancer are:
- Primary liver cancer: This cancer starts in the liver. Primary liver cancer is of different types:
- Hepatocellular carcinoma (the common form of liver cancer)
- Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer)
- Angiosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma (cancer that begins in the cell lining of the blood vessels in the liver)
- Hepatoblastoma (cancer occurring in infants)
- Secondary liver cancer (metastatic liver cancer): Cancer that originates in the liver and spreads to other parts.
- Benign liver tumors: Noncancerous tumors may grow large enough to cause problems, but they do not grow into nearby tissues.
How does one get liver cancer?
Individuals with chronic liver disease have the highest chances of getting liver cancer. The scarring of the liver increases the chance of liver cancer.
Other contributory factors include:
- Chronic hepatitis C
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- Male gender
- Age above 55 years
- High-risk ethnic background (Asian or Hispanic)
- Alcohol use
- Elevated iron content in the blood
- Chronic hepatitis B infection
What are the symptoms of liver cancer?
Symptoms are hardly seen in the initial stages. As the tumor size increases, it may cause pain in the right side of the abdomen. Some patients may have worsening symptoms of chronic liver disease or cirrhosis, which often precedes the development of cancer of the liver.
Some of the common symptoms of liver cancer include:
- Unexplainable weight loss
- Decreased appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- A feeling of fullness or swelling towards the right side of the abdomen caused by an enlarged liver
- Pain in the abdomen or near the right shoulder blade
- Swelling of the feet and abdomen
- Fluid build-up in the abdomen
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
How is liver cancer treated?
The treatment of liver cancer depends on the stage and type of liver cancer. The most common treatment options include:
- Surgery: This option may be useful in removing part of the liver affected by cancer. Complications of surgery include bleeding, infection, or pneumonia.
- Liver transplant: This involves replacing the cancerous cells with healthy liver cells from a donor. Rejection of the liver transplant is the major complication of this method.
- Ablation therapy: This procedure involves using heat or laser to destroy the cancerous cells.
- Embolization: This technique uses a catheter to inject particles or beads into the blood vessels supplying the cancer cells to block it. This kills the cancerous cells.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation of high frequency destroys the cancerous cells.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses medications to kill cancerous cells.
How long can you survive with liver cancer?
Survival of the cancer patients depends on the stage of cancer. The overall survival rate of liver cancer patients is low, due to other underlying medical conditions, such as cirrhosis.
Generally, a five-year survival rate for all stages of liver cancer is only 15%. However, the five-year survival rate can vary depending on the extent of cancer spread.
The five-year survival rate of cancer confined to the liver (localized liver cancer) is 28%, whereas, for cancer spread to nearby organs (regional liver cancer) and cancer spread to distant organs or tissues (distant liver cancer) is 7% and 2%, respectively.
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