Liver Cancer Awareness Month is observed in October every year. It is the second leading cause of death in cancer. It is often associated to Hepatitis B, Liver Cirrhosis, or Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. This month is dedicated to increasing public knowledge about liver cancer, its risk factors, prevention, early detection, and treatment options. It also aims to support individuals affected by liver cancer and raise funds for research to better understand and combat this disease.
During Liver Cancer Awareness Month, UHAPO Health Services hosts educational events, fundraisers, and campaigns to promote awareness and encourage early diagnosis and treatment. These efforts are crucial because liver cancer is challenging to detect in its early stages, and causes major effects at the late stage of these disease.
Guide to Liver Cancer
The liver is one of the largest organs in the human body and it is most commonly associated with various forms of disease such as hepatitis b, liver cirrhosis, or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. It can be a serious and life-threatening disease as it is usually detected at late stage of cancer.
Causes and Risk Factors
Certain liver diseases can also increase a person’s risk of developing liver cancer including –
- Hepatitis B or C
- Liver Cirrhosis
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Alcohol consumption
- Smoking of tobacco
- Exposure to harmful chemicals including aflatoxins, arsenic, vinyl chloride, or thorium dioxide.
- Fatty liver disease or genetic disorders such as hemochromatosis, or alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency
The signs and symptoms of Liver cancer is usually unnoticeable in the early stages. The most prominent signs and symptoms are witnessed at late-stages when it is already spread to immense parts of the liver. The common symptoms of liver cancer may include –
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Pain in the abdomen
- Feeling tired or weak
- Yellowish color on your skin and eyes
- Pain in the upper side of the belly and right shoulder
- Improper bowel motions cause dark yellow pee or white-chalks colored poop
- Lump below your right rib cage
Liver cancer is categorized into 4 different stages based on the prognosis of a patient –
Stage I – a tumor that has not yet spread
Stage II – a tumor that has spread to blood vessels, and lead to the formation of one or more tumors with size of one of the tumor smaller than 2 inches.
Stage III – the tumor has spread vastly to major organs of the body, and has caused 2 or more tumors formation with a size of one of the tumor more than 2 inches.
Stage IV – the tumor has spread to other body parts.
Treatment for liver cancer depends on the stage and overall health of the patient. Options may include –
- Surgery – Surgical removal of the tumor or a liver transplant may be considered.
- Ablation Therapy – Techniques like radiofrequency ablation and microwave ablation can destroy cancer cells using heat.
- Embolization – Blocking the blood supply to the tumor with tiny particles.
- Chemotherapy – Drugs that kill cancer cells may be used, sometimes directly into the liver (transarterial chemoembolization).
- Targeted Therapy – Medications that target specific molecules involved in cancer growth.
- Immunotherapy – Boosting the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
- Palliative Care – To manage symptoms and improve quality of life in advanced stages.
To reduce the risk of liver cancer –
- Get vaccinated for hepatitis B.
- Practice safe sex to reduce the risk of hepatitis B and C.
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
- Maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise.
- Manage diabetes if you have it.
- Avoid exposure to toxins and chemicals.
Liver Cancer Myths and Facts
Liver cancer is a serious condition, and there are several myths and misconceptions surrounding it. It’s essential to have accurate information to better understand the disease and make informed decisions about prevention and treatment. Here are some common liver cancer myths and the corresponding facts –
Myth 1 – Liver cancer only affects people who drink alcohol excessively.
Fact – While heavy alcohol consumption can increase the risk of liver cancer, it’s not the only factor. Chronic hepatitis B and C infections, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), obesity, and exposure to certain toxins can also lead to liver cancer.
Myth 2 – Liver cancer is always a death sentence.
Fact – Early-stage liver cancer can often be treated successfully, and some individuals can be cured. However, the prognosis varies depending on the stage at which it’s detected and the treatment received. Regular screenings and early intervention can significantly improve the chances of survival.
Myth 3 – Liver cancer is not preventable
Fact – There are preventive measures that include getting vaccinated against hepatitis B, practicing safe sex to prevent hepatitis B and C infections, maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise, and limiting alcohol consumption. These actions can reduce the risk of developing liver cancer.
Myth 4 – Liver cancer only occurs in older adults.
Fact – Liver cancer can affect people of all ages, although the risk increases with age. Chronic hepatitis B or C infections and other risk factors can lead to liver cancer in younger individuals as well.
Myth 5 – You can’t do anything to detect liver cancer early.
Fact – Early detection of liver cancer is possible through regular check-ups and screenings. People at higher risk, such as those with chronic liver disease or a family history of liver cancer, should discuss screening options with their healthcare providers.
Myth 6 – Liver cancer always causes noticeable symptoms.
Fact – In many cases, liver cancer does not cause noticeable symptoms in its early stages. However, symptoms appears when the cancer is more advanced.
Myth 7 – Liver cancer and liver cirrhosis are the same conditions.
Fact – Liver cancer and liver cirrhosis are related but distinct conditions. Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver tissue often caused by chronic liver diseases like hepatitis or alcohol abuse. While cirrhosis is a significant risk factor for liver cancer not all people with cirrhosis will develop liver cancer.
Diagnosis & Prognosis of Liver Cancer
Diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer are critical aspects of managing this disease. Early diagnosis can lead to more effective treatment options, while prognosis provides information about the expected course of the disease and potential outcomes. Here’s an overview of how liver cancer is diagnosed and what factors affect the prognosis –
Medical History and Physical Examination – The healthcare provider will ask about risk factors, symptoms, and any family history of liver cancer. They will also perform a physical examination to check for signs of liver enlargement or other abnormalities.
Blood Tests – Blood tests can help assess liver function and may include tests for specific liver markers or tumor markers such as alpha-fetoprotein (AFP). Elevated levels of certain markers may suggest the presence of liver cancer, although these markers are not definitive on their own.
Imaging Studies – Various imaging tests can provide detailed pictures of the liver and help identify tumors. These may include –
- Ultrasound – A non-invasive test that uses sound waves to create images of the liver.
- CT Scan – A computed tomography scan combines multiple X-ray images to create detailed cross-sectional images.
- MRI Scan – Magnetic resonance imaging uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create detailed images.
- PET Scan – Positron emission tomography can help determine the extent of cancer spread.
- Liver Biopsy – During a liver biopsy, a small sample of liver tissue is removed and examined under a microscope to confirm the presence of cancer, determine its type, and assess its stage.
The prognosis for liver cancer depends on several factors –
- Stage of Cancer – The stage at which liver cancer is diagnosed is a crucial determinant of prognosis. Early-stage liver cancer has a better prognosis than advanced-stage cancer.
- Tumor Size and Number – Smaller tumors and fewer tumors in the liver often lead to a more favorable prognosis.
- Liver Function – The overall health and function of the liver play a significant role in prognosis. A healthy liver is better equipped to tolerate treatment and recover.
- Underlying Liver Disease – Patients with underlying liver conditions such as cirrhosis may have a poorer prognosis.
- Treatment Options – The availability of effective treatment options and how well a patient responds to treatment also influence prognosis.
- Age and Overall Health – The age and general health of the patient can affect how well they tolerate treatment and their overall outlook.
Survivor Story: Point of View as a Liver Cancer Survivor
Hello, My name is Rashmi and my cancer journey began when I received the unexpected diagnosis of liver cancer. It was a moment that changed my life forever. I remember feeling a mix of shock, fear, and disbelief. I never thought I would be dealing with such a severe illness. But at that moment, I was also committed to fighting with everything I had.
My treatment journey was challenging. I underwent a serious of diagnostic tests to determine the stage and extent of cancer. I was diagnosed with stage 2 liver cancer. It was the most difficult period of my life filled with uncertainty and anxiety. After the diagnosis, the medical team made a precised treatment plan based on my situation.
I eventually had surgery to remove the tumor, which was followed by a combination of treatments including surgery, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. My treatments showed immense progress in the beginning. However, I later got succumbed to frequent side effects like vomiting, low blood counts, and pain in my abdomen. I consulted my doctor and he told me it is normal to experience certain side effects after the treatment. Their constant guidance and support helped me to recover fast from these disease.
One of the most important aspects of my journey was the unwavering support I received from my family and friends. They were my pillars of strength providing me with emotional support and guidance through the toughest moments. Their love and encouragement were a driving force behind my determination.
Today, I proudly identify as a liver cancer survivor. It’s a title I wear with immense pride and gratitude. Surviving liver cancer has been a transformative experience, and I’m grateful for every day of life that I’ve been given. I hope my story can inspire others to find strength, resilience, and hope in their own journeys toward recovery and survival.