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Liver Cancer

  • What is Liver Cancer?

    Liver cancer is an abnormal growth of tissue in the liver. Primary liver cancer occurs when the tumour starts from the cells of the liver, while secondary (metastatic) liver cancer occurs when the main cancer spreads from another part of the body and deposits cancer cells in the liver. Liver cancer is more common in Asian than Western countries.

    The liver is made up of many different types of cells. Primary liver cancer is named after the cells from which the cancer developed.

    • The main cells in the liver are called hepatocytes. A cancer growing from these cells is called hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) or hepatoma.
    • The cells that line the bile ducts (tubes) are called cholangiocytes. A tumour in these cells is called a cholangiocarcinoma or bile duct cancer.
  • There are 3 main causes of primary liver cancer:

    • Chronic hepatitis B infection
    • Chronic hepatitis C infection
    • Liver disease caused by drinking too much alcohol

    Other causes are less common, and may include inherited liver conditions, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), or a poison called aflatoxin that is found in mouldy peanuts, wheat, soya and grain.

  • The treatment for liver cancer depends on the size of the tumour and how much it has spread, and may include:

    • Chemotherapy to destroy the cancer cells. This can be given as injections into the vein or directly into the liver cancer in a process called chemoembolisation. At the same time, a gel may be injected to block the blood flow to the cancer.
    • Liver transplant, which involves the removal of the entire liver and replacement with a healthy donated liver. This can only be done when a donated liver is available.
    • Radiation therapy (high-energy x-rays) to destroy the cancer cells or stop them from spreading. 
    • Liver resection, which is surgery to remove the affected part of the liver. This can cure early stage liver cancer if the rest of the liver is healthy.
    • Targeted therapy to stop the cancer growing or spreading, or to reduce the blood flow to the cancer cells.
    • Tumour ablation (erosion) to directly destroy the liver cancer cells with heat or alcohol.
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