Cancer by the Numbers: Liver Cancer


liver cancerby Kristina Collins, The Cancer Blog

Almost 19,000 cases of primary liver cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year according to The American Cancer Society. This type of cancer is twice as common in men as in women. Over 16,000 patients will die of their liver cancer by the end of 2006.

The liver is responsible for many vital roles in our body. It plays an important role in removing toxic waste, stores many nutrients absorbed from the intestines and can also make some of the clotting factors needed to stop bleeding from an injury. The liver is made up of several different types of cells. The tumors that develop in the liver can either be benign or cancerous. Benign tumors of the liver include hemangioma, hepatic adenomas and focal nodular hyperplasia.

The most common form of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma. It begins in the main type of liver cell and three out of four patients diagnosed with primary liver cancer are of this type. A type of liver cancer that is rare but has a better prognosis than other forms of liver cancer is called fibrolamellar liver cancer. Cholangiocarcinomas, another form of liver cancer is usually treated the same as hepatocellular carcinoma.

Many times when the cancer is found in the liver it did not begin there but is metastasis from another primary tumor in the body. These tumors are not considered primary liver cancer and are not treated as such, they will be treated based on where the primary tumor began. If you have metastasis to the liver from lung cancer you will still be treated with drugs that kill lung cancer tumors.




Signs and symptoms of liver cancer:

  • unexplained weight loss
  • lack of appetite
  • feeling full after a small meal
  • enlargement in the area where the liver is located, the upper right side of the abdomen
  • stomach pain
  • increased abdominal swelling
  • jaundice

A biopsy is often needed to find out if a mass on the liver is benign or cancerous. If a mass can be seen on CT scan or MRI then it can lead to a biopsy.

Risk factors for liver cancer:

  • hepatitis B
  • hepatitis C
  • cirrhosis
  • tobacco use
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • birth control pills

Only a small amount of liver cancers are found early and can be totally removed by surgery. Less that 30 percent of patients are able to have their tumor totally removed. The overall five year survival rate for liver cancer is about 9 percent. One reason for this low number is that many patients with liver cancer have cirrhosis of the liver which could be fatal in itself.

The numbers do sound grim, but not necessarily what will happen, everyone is unique and this cancer can be treated. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are used to combat primary liver cancer.

One way that liver cancer can be cured is by a liver transplant. This option is for those patients with small liver tumors who's cancer cannot be surgically removed. Over 2500 transplants were performed with people with liver cancer in the last two years. The good news is that the five year survival for these patients was 70 percent.

Some specific treatments available for liver cancer:

To find out more about primary liver cancer you can visit these sites:

The American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute

source - The Cancer Blog 


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