Liver cancer, as the name suggests, is a type of cancer that begins in the liver. It should be noted that there is primary liver cancer and secondary liver cancer.
Primary liver cancer means the cancer cells first started growing in the liver itself.
Over time, these cells can travel across the body through the lymphatic system or the blood and infect other organs of the body.
Once other organs are infected and new cancer cells grow, this is known as “secondary cancer.” However, the type of cancer cells found in the other organ is still the same as that of primary cancer.
It is important to know the difference because the treatment used for cancer will be based on the type of primary cancer. For example, secondary lung cancer that has spread and affected the liver will still be treated using treatments for lung cancer.
The function of the liver
Next, to the skin, the liver is the human body’s next biggest organ. It is located right beneath the right lung and is enclosed within the lower ribs on the body’s right side.
The liver is one of the most important organs of the human body. It performs numerous vital functions, such as the following:
The liver breaks down toxic substances that the body expels in the form of stools. These toxic substances include waste products from bodily functions, drugs, and medications, alcohol, etc.
Thus, if there is a problem with the liver, it won’t be able to perform this function properly. This can result in the accumulation of toxic substances and issues with normal bodily processes.
In addition, the liver produces substances needed by the body in order for tissue and bone production. Another important substance that it produces is cholesterol, which is vital for forming walls of cells.
The liver also generates substances that help in the clotting of blood. This is extremely important as it helps in controlling the bleeding when you get cuts, scratches, or wounds.
Another important function of the liver is the production of albumin. Albumin is a protein that balances the fluids between the bloodstream and the tissues of the body.
Bile, a substance that is crucial in helping your body in digesting and absorbing food properly, is also produced by the liver. Lastly, the liver stores essential nutrients.
The hepatic portal vein and the hepatic artery supply blood to the liver. But before the liver is reached, this blood from the hepatic portal vein passes through the digestive system.
Here, the blood gets the vitamins, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates obtained from the food and drinks you consume. These substances are ultimately carried into the liver.
The liver also converts these fats and carbohydrates you eat into energy when your body requires it.
Types of liver cancer
Your liver is composed of various kinds of cells. The type of liver cancer would depend on where it began to grow and what kind of cell it began in.
The followings are the different kinds of liver cancer:
- Hepatoblastoma – This is an extremely rare type of liver cancer that often affects younger children.
- Hemangiosarcoma (or angiosarcoma) – This begins in the liver’s blood vessels and is also a very rare type of liver cancer.
- Intra-hepatic cholangiocarcinoma – This type of liver cancer begins in the liver’s bile ducts.
- Hepatocellular carcinoma – This type of liver cancer is the most common.
- Fibrolamellar carcinoma – This is a very rare form of hepatocellular carcinoma.
Symptoms of liver cancer
One of the most common symptoms of liver cancer is jaundice. This is a condition wherein the white parts of your eyes and your skin become yellowish in color.
You may also experience some itching of your skin because of it. This jaundice is caused by some blockage in the bile duct or if your liver is not functioning well.
Another symptom is abdominal swelling. This can take place when you have liver cancer due to two things: First, there could be an accumulation of fluid causing generalized swelling.
This condition is known as “ascites.” Because there is congestion in your liver, the fluids accumulate.
This causes your liver’s blood vessels to get squeezed. As a result, some of the blood that usually just flows through your liver gets pushed back up through your veins.
These veins experience extreme pressure causing some of the fluids to leak into the abdomen. There are times when these veins become so large that you can see them below the skin’s surface.
If the liver is unable to produce blood proteins properly, there is also a tendency for the fluids to leak into the abdominal cavity.
Secondly, your liver itself could become larger because the cancer is worsening. This enlargement can cause your abdomen’s right side to swell.
The third symptom of liver cancer is unexplained weight loss. This means you are losing weight even if you are not trying to and still living a normal lifestyle.
You are not on some kind of weight loss diet, you are not working out to lose weight, yet you are shedding off those pounds. A weight loss is considered “significant” and should be a cause for concern if it is over 10% of your body weight.
Some other symptoms of liver cancer include the following:
- High fever
- An abrupt deterioration in the health of a person with known liver cirrhosis or chronic hepatitis
- Itching of skin
- Feeling bloated or immediately full even if you only ate a little amount of food
- A prolonged period of loss of appetite, usually a couple of weeks
- A painful feeling in your right shoulder. This is due to your distended liver stimulating the nerves below the diaphragm. These are linked to your right shoulder’s nerves.
When is it time to consult a doctor?
Experiencing the abovementioned symptoms do not immediately mean that you are suffering from liver cancer. Many of these symptoms are also symptoms of other conditions.
However, your case is serious and should immediately be addressed by a doctor if you are experiencing the following signs:
- Swelling of your abdomen
- Extreme discomfort in your stomach area
- Coughing up blood
- Yellowish skin and eyes
Do not delay if you are experiencing these symptoms or if you have strong reason to believe that you are a candidate for liver cancer.
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