The liver, one of the largest organs of the body, has many important functions that keep a person healthy. It removes harmful material from the blood, produces enzymes and bile that help digest food and converts food into substances needed for life and growth.
Cancer of the liver, which may be primary or secondary cancer, involves an uncontrolled growth of cells within the liver.
Primary cancer arises within the liver and in its early stages exists only within the liver. At an early stage primary liver cancer may cause no symptoms at all. More advanced disease may cause loss of appetite, weight loss, fever, fatigue and weakness.
Primary liver cancer can affect anyone, but it occurs most frequently in people with advanced liver disease. In North America, the risk is greatest for those with longstanding hepatitis B, advanced hepatitis C and cirrhosis. Because hepatitis viruses are so widespread, liver cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death worldwide.
Secondary liver cancer is term for cancer that originates in another organ, such as the colon, stomach, pancreas and breast and then spreads to the liver. Because secondary cancer is present in at least two organs, the treatment possibilities are more limited than for primary liver cancer. As the cancer grows, pain may develop in the upper abdomen on the right side and may extend into the back and shoulder. With advanced disease, the signs of liver failure appear, which include abdominal swelling and a feeling of fullness or bloating and jaundice, a condition in which the skin and the whites of the eyes become yellow and the urine becomes dark.
Certain inherited conditions also predispose a person to liver cancer, including tyrosinemia in children, a rare disorder in which the body can't effectively break down the amino acid tyrosine, and untreated hemochromatosis, a disorder that causes the body to absorb and store too much iron, in adults. Common to all these conditions is chronic liver inflammation and injury.
Some of the treatments available: