The Facts on Liver Cancer
The liver, the largest gland in the body, plays a vital role in keeping us alive. Its many functions include storing vitamins and nutrients, producing proteins used for blood clotting, and creating bile used for digestion. It also breaks down and filters out toxins from the blood.
Two types of cancer affect the liver:
- Primary cancer first begins in the liver and may spread to other organs. The most common primary cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma.
- Metastasized cancer of the liver comes originally from another part of the body. Cancer cells can easily travel from another affected organ to the liver because of the role the liver plays in filtering the blood. Some of the most common cancers that spread to the liver are from the colon, pancreas, stomach, lung, and breast.
The average person diagnosed with liver cancer is over 60 years old. In Canada, about 1,800 people are diagnosed every year with liver cancer, and more men than women are affected.
Causes of Liver Cancer
The causes of liver cancer are still unknown, but some risk factors have been identified. They include:
- chronic hepatitis B and C infection
- cirrhosis of the liver
- diabetes mellitus
- exposure to toxins, such as certain types of fungi (aflatoxin), vinyl chloride, anabolic steroids, and arsenic
Symptoms and Complications of Liver Cancer
Liver cancer can go undetected for quite a while before there are any indications that something might be wrong. Most of the symptoms are a result of liver damage. They include:
- ascites (an accumulation of fluid around the liver and intestines)
- jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eye)
- abdominal pain
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- pain in the back or abdomen or around the right shoulder blade
- a hard lump just below the rib cage
- dark-coloured urine
- clay-coloured bowel movements
- internal bleeding
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