Liver cancer: causes, symptoms, treatment, prognosis

Liver cancer is one of the most common types of cancer worldwide. The disease is less common in Western countries. The condition usually follows cirrhosis as a result of long-term excessive alcohol consumption or hepatitis C. Liver cancer is a malignant tumor that originates from the liver cells: primary liver cancer. Liver metastases (secondary liver cancer) are malignant tumors in the liver that have spread from other parts of the body. What are the causes and symptoms of liver cancer and liver metastases? How is the diagnosis made, what are the treatment options and what is the prognosis? A hepatoblastoma is a malignant tumor of the liver (liver cancer) that only occurs in children.

Article content

  • Liver cancer (primary liver cancer)
  • Causes of liver cancer
  • Symptoms of liver cancer
  • Liver cancer diagnosis
  • Liver cancer treatment
  • Liver cancer prognosis
  • Liver metastases (secondary liver cancer)
  • How do liver metastases develop?
  • Symptoms of liver metastases
  • Diagnosis of liver metastases
  • Treatment of liver metastases
  • Prognosis of liver metastases
  • Malignant tumor of the liver in children: hepatoblastoma

Liver cancer (primary liver cancer)

A malignant tumor that originates from the liver cells. In the Netherlands, approximately two hundred and seventy-five people get liver cancer every year. The condition becomes more common with increasing age. Liver cancer is four times more common in men than in women. Heredity is not a significant factor. The medical name for liver cancer: hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

Causes of liver cancer

  • In Western countries, liver cancer usually follows long-term cirrhosis due to long-term excessive use of alcohol or hepatitis C.
  • In Asian countries, liver cancer is often closely associated with viral hepatitis (particularly B and C).
  • People with hemochromatosis have a greater risk of liver cancer. In hemachromatosis, iron accumulates in the liver.
  • Carcinogens in food can also be a cause of liver cancer. For example, aflatoxin, which is a poison made by a fungus that grows on stored grains and peanuts.

Symptoms of liver cancer

  • Loss of weight;
  • An increased body temperature;
  • Pain in the abdomen (above, on the right);
  • The skin turns yellow in color;
  • The whites of the eyes become yellow in color;
  • A distended abdomen, this is due to fluid that has accumulated.

Liver cancer diagnosis

If someone already has cirrhosis, the doctor will suspect liver cancer based on the symptoms. Blood tests may be done to see if there are signs of cancer. Furthermore, liver function can be assessed. Other examinations: ultrasound, CT, MRI, liver biopsy.

Liver cancer treatment

If liver cancer is detected early, there may still be a chance to cure the disease. This is called curative treatment. It is important that the liver still works properly. The tumor is removed, along with part of the liver. Small tumors can sometimes be treated with slander therapy (heat), cryotherapy (cold) or with an alcohol injection. Sometimes the entire liver must be removed and a liver transplant is required. This is only possible if there are no metastases. If the tumor is discovered late, cure is probably no longer possible. The treatment is then aimed at slowing down the progression of the disease. This can be done by chemotherapy and blocking the blood supply to the tumor. This will cause the tumor to shrink.

Liver cancer prognosis

The prognosis for people with liver cancer depends on the stage of the disease. If the cancer is discovered late, the outlook is generally poor.

Liver metastases (secondary liver cancer)

These are malignant tumors in the liver that come from cancer in another part of the body. The original tumor is usually located in the lungs, breast, colon, stomach or pancreas. Leukemia and lymphoma can also spread to the liver.

How do liver metastases develop?

Liver metastases occur when cancer cells break away from the original tumor. The cancer cells circulate in the blood, attach themselves to the liver and multiply.

Symptoms of liver metastases

There may already be complaints caused by the original tumor, but that is not necessary. The complaints that liver metastasis can cause:

  • Loss of weight;
  • An increased body temperature;
  • Pain in the abdomen (upper right);
  • Skin and whites of eyes become yellow in color;
  • Later, the abdomen may swell because the liver becomes larger or it is due to fluid retention.

Diagnosis of liver metastases

If someone has cancer, tests will be done to find out whether the liver is affected. Ultrasound, a CT scan, MRI. A biopsy may be performed for microscopic examination to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment of liver metastases

If it concerns one metastasis, surgery can be considered. But usually there are multiple metastases, in which case the treatment is aimed at preserving liver function and relieving the complaints that occur with liver metastases. Painkillers can be prescribed, chemotherapy or radiation can be used to reduce the size of the tumor.

Prognosis of liver metastases

The prognosis for people with liver metastases is not good. The cancer is usually already in an advanced stage.

Malignant tumor of the liver in children: hepatoblastoma

Hepatoblastoma (HB)

A hepatoblastoma is a malignant tumor of the liver (liver cancer). A hepatoblastoma is a tumor that develops in the liver cell (also called a hepatocyte) during the growth of a young cell into a usable liver cell in an unborn or young child. A hepatoblastoma is a type of cancer that only occurs in children: childhood cancer. Hepatoblastoma is rare, in the Netherlands it occurs in approximately one to three children per year. It is the most important malignant tumor of the liver in children. Hepatoblastoma is usually discovered before a child turns three years old. But this tumor can also occur at the age of approximately fifteen years.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)

In addition to a hepatoblastoma, there is also a hepatocellular carcinoma. This cancer also arises from a hepatocyte, but it is not a developmental tumor and is more common in adults than in children. Hepatocellular carcinoma is also very rare and mainly occurs in children from the age of five.

Treatment of hepatoblastoma and hepatocellular carcinoma

Usually, when the tumor is diagnosed, it is too large to operate. Chemotherapy is used to shrink the tumor and to combat possible metastases. After chemotherapy, the tumor will be small enough to be surgically removed. After the operation, chemotherapy will be given again to ensure that all malignant cells have disappeared. If no metastases are found in a hepatoblastoma and the tumor can be completely removed, a survival rate is said to be ninety percent. If metastases are discovered, the chance of cure is smaller, about fifty to sixty percent.

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