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Diagnosis / Liver Cancer

The liver is your largest internal organ, weighing in at two to three pounds and measuring about six inches across. Its primary task is to filter, detoxify and metabolize waste in the blood flowing from your digestive tract. It secretes bile that helps with digestion, stores essential nutrients, and is responsible for manufacturing the proteins that help your blood clot. Located on the right side of your body, it is divided into two sections, or lobes, and is made up primarily of cells known as hepatocytes, as well as several other types of cells that line the blood vessels and bile ducts of your liver.

When these cells are functioning properly, they keep the liver doing its job. But if there is an overgrowth of cells, they can cause tumors – some benign, some cancerous. Most cases of liver cancer are a result of cancer spreading (or metastasizing) from another part of the body. However, primary liver cancer is cancer that has originated in the liver.

Risk Factors for Liver Cancer

In 2017, more than 40,000 adults in the U.S. were diagnosed with primary liver cancer. Men are three times more likely to develop primary liver cancer than women, and as such, it is the fifth most common cause of cancer death in men, and the eighth most common cause of cancer death in women. The exact cause of primary liver cancer is unknown, however, some of the risk factors that may increase your likelihood of developing it include:

  • Chronic viral infection of the liver, usually from Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), caused by obesity
  • Cirrhosis, primarily from long-term alcohol abuse
  • Family history of liver cancer
  • Age (over 60) and genetics (men more than women)

Symptoms of Liver Cancer

Unfortunately, by the time you see symptoms of liver cancer, it has already advanced to the later stages of the disease. The average five year survival rate for those diagnosed with liver cancer is 18 percent, though that number can be higher or lower depending on how far the cancer has progressed. Because of the lack of symptoms, it is a disease that is seldom discovered early. If you do notice symptoms, they typically include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Chronic stomach pain
  • Feeling of fullness, even if you didn’t eat much
  • Swelling or bloating of the stomach
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the whites of the eyes and the skin)
  • Increased symptoms from existing cirrhosis or chronic hepatitis

If you experience any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor to rule out a serious illness.

Diagnosing Liver Cancer

There are several ways that your doctor can diagnose liver cancer, including:

Blood Test

You can undergo a blood test that screens for alpha fetal protein levels (AFP). Elevated levels of AFP are usually found in the blood of 50 to 70 percent of patients with liver cancer. Blood tests can also rule out hepatitis, and provide information on liver function.

CT Scan, MRI or Ultrasound

These technologies allow for three dimensional and detailed views of your body’s internal organs. A CT scan can often reveal features specific to liver cancer, as well as determine the size of the tumor.

Liver Biopsy

During this procedure, your doctor will remove a small amount of tissue from your liver, and a pathologist will examine the sample and determine whether you have liver cancer.

If you or a loved one is suffering from liver cancer, there are a variety of treatments and support available to you. Contact IVC today at 503-612-0498 to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also read our brochure on Interventional Oncology.

* This information about Liver Cancer was reviewed by Dr. Jason R. Bauer. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us using the form below.

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Jason Bauer, MD RVT
Michael Pfister, MD RVT

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