Liver Cancer Treatment Options

Liver Cancer Treatment

Once liver cancer is diagnosed and its stage is determined, your oncologist discusses what course of treatment is best for your situation. Many factors are taken into consideration before putting together a liver cancer treatment plan, such as the stage of cancer, your general health, and possible adverse side effects. The primary treatment options where liver cancer is concerned are tumor ablation or embolization, surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.

Surgery

When it comes to surgery, there are two treatment options: partial hepatectomy or a liver transplantation.

Partial hepatectomy entails the removal of a part of the liver and is often performed when there is one tumor that has not spread to surrounding tissues. Doctors rely on imaging tests to determine whether they can successfully remove the tumor in its entirety.

Though it is not easily available, a liver transplant is often the cleanest solution for individuals with smaller liver tumors. It is especially preferred in cases where surgery is not an option. A liver transplant is also a treatment option with the lowest risk of a recurrence.

Tumor Ablation

Tumor ablation is used to kill tumors when surgery could compromise the liver function or general health of the patient. Some types of ablation that are commonly used to treat liver cancer include radiofrequency ablation, ethanol ablation, and cryosurgery.

Embolization

Embolization therapy such as arterial embolization and chemoembolization (a combination of embolization with chemotherapy) entails the injection of substances that hinder blood flow to cancerous cells in the liver. Embolization is a preferred treatment option for those who cannot undergo surgery or have tumors that are too large for ablation treatment.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is another commonly used treatment option that works by using high-energy rays to destroy malignant cells. Radiation therapy is often used to alleviate symptoms and not as common as ablation and embolization.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a standard treatment option for many types of cancers that involve the use of drugs that kill cancer cells, and the chemo drugs that are used for liver cancer are only a handful. Unfortunately, chemotherapy is not the most effective treatment option for liver cancer as most chemotherapy drugs prove to be ineffective when it comes to liver tumors.

Targeted Therapy

There are also drugs that can target specific actions in cells that result in cancer, and because chemotherapy drugs are not very effective when it comes to liver cancer, doctors have been opting or targeted therapies more.

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Liver Cancer Risks, Symptoms, and Treatment

Liver Cancer Risks, Symptoms, and Treatment

The liver is the largest organ in the body located above the stomach and beneath the diaphragm with many important responsibilities. The liver’s primary task is to filter the blood to detoxify harmful substances as well as metabolize alcohol and drugs. The liver is also responsible for the production of bile and proteins needed for functions such as blood clotting.  Hence, when the liver is under attack and cannot function properly, it can lead to serious complications. When malignant cells form in the liver, it is then diagnosed with primary liver cancer. So let’s take a look at liver cancer risks, symptoms, and treatment.

Liver Cancer Risk Factors

Numerous risk factors are associated with an increased chance of liver cancer. Some of these factors are a family history of liver cancer, a family history of liver diseases, being overweight/obese, and being a smoker.

Furthermore, men are at an increased risk of developing liver cancer than women. More importantly, a large portion of individuals who get diagnosed with liver cancer also have a condition known as cirrhosis, which is typically caused by excess alcohol use.

The Symptoms of Liver Cancer

People with primary liver cancer typically do not exhibit any signs and symptoms in the early stages. In most cases, symptoms appear in the later stages, and the earlier it gets caught, the easier the treatment usually is. The most common liver cancer symptoms include appetite loss with unplanned weight loss, nausea, swollen spleen and liver, abdominal pain and swelling, and jaundice.

Diagnosing Liver Cancer

When there are symptoms, doctors can look into your medical history, examine you, and order tests to determine whether they are the result of liver cancer. Imaging tests such as CT scans, MRIs, and bone scans may be used to look for cancer.

There are also blood tests that can provide information about your liver function to help your doctor reach a diagnosis, including liver function tests and blood clotting tests.

Treating Liver Cancer

In terms of liver cancer treatment options, surgery may be recommended to remove the tumor in combination with chemotherapy. In most cases, chemotherapy alone is not sufficient to destroy cancer cells, so it is typically used in combination with another treatment option.

Percutaneous ethanol injection is also used, which involves the injection of alcohol into the tumor to eliminate it. The treatment approach, prognosis, and life expectancy all depend on the stage of cancer and the overall health of the patient.

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Liver Cancer Diagnosis

Liver Cancer

People do not usually get screened for liver cancer, but it is recommended for those who are at an increased risk to get screened. People who are at a higher risk are those with cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis, and those who consume excess alcohol.

Your Doctor

The first step in diagnosis entails a visit to your doctor where you discuss your symptoms. Your doctor will likely carry out a full physical examination, rule out other liver conditions that may be causing your symptoms, order blood tests to look for hepatitis and see how your kidneys are functioning. These are referred to as liver function tests and are used to eliminate the possibility of other liver diseases.

In some cases, to cover all bases, your doctor may also order imaging tests such as CT scans to look for tumors in the liver and the stage if there is any. The blood tests typically reveal whether any tumor markers are present in the blood. Increased levels of alpha-fetoprotein and iron can also point to liver cancer.

Your Oncologist

If your primary physician’s tests show that you have cancerous cells in your liver, you then get a referral to a specialist, an oncologist to carry out your care and treatment. Each case is different, so your oncologist is likely to order more tests, which can include MRIs, CT scans, and biopsies.

A CT scan is used to detect tumors inside the body, to determine where they are located, how big they are, and their type. MRIs are used to gather further information about the type of tumors in the body.

Your oncologist can also determine whether the tumor has metastasized by using an angiography. A biopsy may also be needed which entails removing some tissue from the liver to examine it further. In many cases, imaging tests are enough for a doctor to reach a conclusive diagnosis so a biopsy is rarely required.

Liver cancer diagnosis period involves a sizeable care team, from your oncologist to your pathologists, which means you are almost never alone and have constant support and help around you. However, it is also crucial to have a strong emotional support system outside the hospital.

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Understanding Liver Cancer Symptoms

Liver Cancer Symptoms

Usually, people with liver cancer do not exhibit any signs and symptoms in the early stages, which can be a concern as early diagnosis makes the treatment of liver cancer much easier. Hence, it is essential to be familiar and on the lookout for liver cancer symptoms and signs, as the earlier you begin treatment, the higher your chances of remission become.

Liver Cancer Primary Symptoms

Some of the most common early symptoms of liver cancer are appetite loss, unexplained weight loss, nausea, vomiting, swollen abdomen, itching, and discoloration in the eyes and skin. If you exhibit any of these symptoms, it is important to consult a doctor as soon as possible as you may have liver or another type of cancer.

Besides the primary symptoms, some people also report secondary symptoms such as bleeding and bruising easily and fever, as well as visibly dilated veins in the abdomen.

Liver Tumors

When a tumor forms in the liver, this causes hormonal imbalances in other parts of the body as well, which can result in a variety of symptoms including fatigue, low blood sugar, high cholesterol, growth of breasts, and an increase in red blood cell counts.

Diagnosing Liver Cancer

If you believe you may be exhibiting signs or symptoms of liver cancer, it may be a good idea to find a checklist to go over to see whether you are exhibiting the primary symptoms. Regardless of one or more symptoms checked off, it is best to consult a doctor about your concerns and to get an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment if you do have a type of liver cancer.

Numerous liver cancer symptoms can also be caused by other liver diseases, so it is highly recommended to get screened for both liver cancer and other liver conditions. You may need to get imaging tests such as CT scans for the detection of tumors, but further testing options such as MRI scans and biopsies are also available.

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