Summary: New diagnosed cases of liver cancer are on the rise in the United States, which is why National Liver Cancer Awareness Month is so greatly important! Every October, numerous organizations band together to raise awareness and money for research for find a cure for this type of cancer. Here you can learn the risks, warning signs, symptoms, and the different ways you can help spread awareness about liver cancer this October!
Every year, over thirty-thousand people in the United States are diagnosed with primary liver cancer. This type of cancer is on the rise in the US, and across the globe. Liver cancer is the growth and spreading of cancer-stricken cells inside of the liver. Cancer that begins in the liver is called primary, whereas cancer that spreads to the liver from another origin site is called metastatic liver cancer. The most common form of primary liver cancer is called hepatocellular carcinoma. Liver cancer currently affects twice as many men than women.
There are many risk factors that can increase your overall risk for developing this cancer. These are:
- Long-term hepatitis B and hepatitis C infection are linked to liver cancer because they often lead to cirrhosis. Hepatitis B can lead to liver cancer without cirrhosis.
- Excessive alcohol use.
- Obesity and diabetes are closely associated with a type of liver abnormality called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease which may increase the risk of liver cancer, especially in those who drink heavily or have viral hepatitis.
- Certain inherited metabolic diseases.
- Environmental exposure to aflatoxins.
- Many other liver diseases, including autoimmune diseases like PBC, and other rare diseases such as Tyrosinemia, Alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency, Porphyria cutanea tarda, Glycogen storage disease, and Wilson disease can lead to cirrhosis, which increases the risk of liver cancer.
The symptoms of liver cancer can include a range of things. Pain in the upper right abdomen or back and shoulder, nausea, fatigue, bloating, loss of appetite, feeling full after minimal intake, weight loss, fever, weakness or jaundice; which is the yellowing of the eyes and skin.
Your doctor will perform a physical examination and imaging testing may be conducted to determine if you do have liver cancer. Blood tests, ultrasounds and CT imagery, magnetic resonance imaging and angiograms may be done to confirm the diagnosis. In some cases, a liver biopsy is conducted, and a small piece of liver tissue is removed and studied under a microscope in the lab.
Treatment for liver cancer varies from patient to patient and depends on other information about your cancer. Your treatment will depend on:
- The condition of the liver
- The size, location and number of tumors
- If the cancer has metastasized, or spread, outside the liver
- The patient’s age and overall health
There are other treatment options if the cancer has not yet metastasized. Treatment options if the cancer has not spread and the rest of the liver is healthy are:
- Transplant If the cancer has not spread, for some patients a liver transplant or a replacement of the liver may be an option.
- Surgery will be done if the cancer has been found early and the rest of the liver is healthy, doctors may perform surgery to remove the tumor from the liver, called a partial hepatectomy.
- Radiofrequency ablation uses a special probe to destroy cancer cells with heat.
Other treatment options if surgery and a transplant are not possible include:
For cancer that has not spread outside the liver:
- Cryosurgery uses a metal probe to freeze and destroy cancer cells.
- Bland embolization or chemoembolizationare procedures in which the blood supply to the tumor is blocked, after giving anticancer drugs, or chemoembolization, and one without, or bland embolization. Both are given in blood vessels near the tumor.
- Radiation therapy uses radiation to destroy cancer cells.
For cancer that has spread outside the liver:
- Oral medication is available for use in some cases of hepatocellular carcinoma, which is the most common type of primary liver cancer.
- Clinical trials may be an option for some patients. Your doctor can help you to determine if you qualify for any of these studies.
- Talk to your doctor about other options that may be available.
The overall outlook for liver cancer patients is not always the best. In cases with transplant, this effectively cures liver cancer. However, a transplant is not feasible or possible for many patients. Surgical resections are successful roughly one-third of the time. There are many new studies and new medications in the works that scientists hope will lead to therapies and treatments that can prolong the lives of these liver cancer patients, or completely cure their disease.
The best ways you can reduce your overall risk of getting liver cancer include these steps.
- Regularly see a doctor who specializes in liver disease
- Talk to your doctor about viral hepatitis prevention, including hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccinations
- Take steps to prevent exposure to hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
- If you have cirrhosis or chronic liver disease, follow your doctor’s recommendations for treatment and be screened regularly for liver cancer
- If you are overweight or obese, diabetic, or drink heavily, talk to your doctor
- How many tumors do I have?
- What size are these tumors?
- Are there other tests I will need such as biopsy, imaging scans or PET scans?
- Has the cancer remained in the liver or has it spread?
- What treatment options do I have?
- How effective is the treatment for liver cancer?
- Is it possible for my tumors to return?
- Would I benefit from participation in a clinical trial? If so, where can I find more information about trials?
- Is transplant a possibility for me?
- How severe is the liver damage?
- What treatment do you recommend? Will this slow down the progression of the disease?
- Will any medication be prescribed? What are the side effects?
- Should I change my diet?
- Are there any supplements you would suggest that I take?
- What can be done to relieve my symptoms?
- If cirrhosis develops, is transplantation my only option?
There are numerous ways you can help to spread awareness about liver cancer! Here are some of our top ideas:
- Change your profile and get creative with our graphics on Facebook! To temporarily change your profile picture, simply click on your profile (or hover over your profile and click “update” on desktop or laptop”- then “Add Frame” and search for “Liver Cancer Awareness Month”. Select it and help raise awareness for this deadly disease! You can set this picture as temporary for a certain amount of days, and it will then automatically change back!
- Share articles about liver cancer from reputable sources on your social media platforms, using hashtags #livercancer #LiverCancerAwarenessMonth or something else associated with liver cancer. This helps to connect all topics and articles that cover this topic.
- Join a local walk or fundraising event! You can find these event by doing a simple internet search for “liver cancer” along with your city and state.
- Check in with the American Cancer Society, who also has infographics and informational articles ready to be shared, hung up, and posted around your town!
By doing what we can to raise awareness about liver cancer, we help others recognize their symptoms for early detection, which helps to increase the overall survival rate. Any amount of exposure for liver cancer helps to spread the word!
American Liver Foundation