“600,000 people in the world die from this, and a lot of them are Asians. We have had the vaccine for over 20 years, and still not enough people are taking it. Every 30 seconds, one person in the world dies of liver cancer, which is totally preventable," – Dr. Samuel So (Director of the Liver Cancer Program and the Asian Liver Center at Stanford University in California), 2013.
The liver continuously filters blood that circulates through the body, converting nutrients and drugs absorbed from the digestive tract into ready-to-use chemicals. The liver performs many other important functions, such as removing toxins and other chemical waste products from the blood and readying them for excretion. Because all the blood in the body must pass through it, the liver is unusually accessible to cancer cells traveling in the bloodstream.
Most cancers in the liver started somewhere else, like the colon, and then spread to the liver. But cancer can also start in the liver itself. Primary liver cancer occurs when cells in the liver begin to grow abnormally.
Cancer cells don’t respond to regular cell growth, division and death signals like healthy cells do. They also don’t organize normally. Instead they grow into a tumor, which may invade surrounding layers of tissue and possibly spread to other organs.
Because the liver is made up of several different types of cells, several types of tumors can form there. Some are malignant (cancerous),
while some are benign (noncancerous)
. Most primary liver cancers
are hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)
or intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (ICC).
Here are some scary truths about liver cancer you might not know yet:
- Liver cancer is the growth and spread of unhealthy cells in the liver. Cancer that starts in the liver is primary liver cancer. Cancer that spreads to the liver from another organ is metastatic liver cancer.
- Risk factors for primary liver cancer. Liver cancer is the third most common cancer in the world. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in Indonesia ranks as the 9th most common of cancers. The ratio of male and female in HCC 2.5:1. Risk factors include other liver diseases, mainly cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis B, chronic hepatitis C, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- Often there are no symptoms of liver cancer. When they occur, they may include fatigue, bloating, pain on the right side of the upper abdomen or back or shoulder, nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, weakness, fever and jaundice.
- Doctors often recommend regular liver cancer screenings for those at increased risk. Liver cancer may be diagnosed by a physical examination, imaging tests, blood tests or a biopsy.
- How is liver cancer treated? It depends on the condition of the liver: size, location, and number of tumors, if the cancer has spread outside the liver, and the person’s age and overall health. Treatment options include a liver transplant, the removal of the tumor from the liver, cryosurgery (freezing and destroying cancer cells), radio frequency ablation (destroying cancer cells with heat), chemotherapy or radiation, or the use of Sorafenib (Nexavar), an oral medication for advanced cases of primary liver cancer.
- If you think you’re at risk for liver cancer, regularly see a doctor who specializes in liver disease. Take steps to avoid other types of liver disease. And do whatever you can to avoid obesity, diabetes and alcohol consumption.
Liver cancer is serious and has a low survival rate. As such, all steps should be taken to reduce the risk of liver cancer and increase the chances of detecting liver cancer early should it arise. There is no way to completely prevent liver cancer. However, the following measures may help to reduce the risk:
- Moderate alcohol intake: Regularly consuming high volumes of alcohol on a long-term basis significantly increases the risk of cirrhosis of the liver. This, in turn, greatly increases the likelihood of developing liver cancer. Moderating the consumption of alcohol, or giving it up completely, can significantly reduce the risk of developing liver cancer. Limiting cigarette can also help avoid cancers of the liver and other organs.
- Hepatitis B vaccination
- Maintain a healthy body weight: As obesity is a risk factor and fatty liver disease can lead to liver cancer and diabetes, looking after your physical health and weight can be key to reducing the risk of liver cancer.
- Treating underlying conditions: Some conditions contribute to the development of liver cancer, such as diabetes and hemochromatosis. Treating these before they develop into liver cancer can reduce the risk of complications.