About Liver Cancer

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of primary liver cancer, or cancer that starts in the liver.  It is responsible for about 80 percent of the primary malignant liver tumors observed in adults.1 Worldwide, HCC is the fifth most common cancer in men and the eighth most common in women, with more than 560,000 new cases diagnosed annually around the globe.2 Approximately 24,000 Americans are diagnosed with HCC each year, and the rate has been increasing.3 About 18,000 people die annually from the disease.  Worldwide, liver cancer is the third deadliest cancer.

Hepatocellular carcinoma begins in the hepatocytes, the main type of liver cell, and can start as a single tumor that grows larger or as many spots throughout the liver.

Risk Factors and Symptoms

Age

HCC is usually diagnosed between the ages of 55 and 85 years, and strikes men more frequently than women.4

Risk Factors

The greatest risk factors are having a chronic liver infection, such as hepatitis B or C (Hep B or Hep C), and/or suffering from cirrhosis (liver damage from alcohol abuse or hepatitis).  A family history of liver cancer, race/ethnicity, gender, diabetes, obesity, age, and exposure to certain chemicals are additional factors.

Symptoms

Detecting HCC in its early stages is difficult because symptoms typically do not occur until the disease is advanced.  At that point, symptoms are similar to cirrhosis and may include jaundice, weight loss, fever, nausea, loss of appetite, itching, and abdominal swelling and possibly pain. For high-risk individuals or patients with symptoms, there are a number of diagnostic tests that may be used to assess the tumor and guide treatment.  These include an AFP test, blood test, laparoscopy, biopsy, CT or CAT scan, ultrasound, and MRI.

Prognosis and Survival

Studies have shown that patients with small, resectable tumors (tumors that can be removed) and who do not have cirrhosis or other serious health problems are likely to do well if their cancers are removed. Their overall five-year survival is over 50 percent.5

However, only a small number of liver cancers are found in the early stages and can be removed with surgery. For all stages combined, the relative five-year survival rate from liver cancer is about 10 percent.5 Part of the reason for this low survival rate is that most patients with liver cancer also have other liver problems such as cirrhosis, which itself can be fatal.

Treatment

Surgery can be curative if the cancer is confined to a small area of the liver and can be safely removed.  In certain cases, a liver transplant may be performed, also potentially leading to a cure.

Other treatment options include radiation therapy or several approaches to ablating (destroying) the tumor, including radiofrequency ablation, ethanol injection, or the infusion of chemotherapy drugs into the blood vessels that feed the tumor, a procedure called transarterial chemoembolization (TACE).

Another option is Nexavar® (sorafenib) tablets, an oral, targeted therapy. Nexavar is designed to interrupt the signals in the body that lead to the growth and spread of cancer cells.

1. http://www.ehow.com/about_5470669_liver-cancer-complications.html
2. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/282814-overview
3. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/liver
4. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/LiverCancer/DetailedGuide/liver-cancer-what-is-key-statistics; also:
http://www.buzzle.com/articles/liver-cancer-survival-rate.html
5. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/LiverCancer/OverviewGuide/liver-cancer-overview-survival-rates

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