About the Condition
Liver cancer occurs when the genetic material of cells in the liver become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. The abnormal cells then replicate, causing cancer. If undetected, the cancer can spread beyond the liver and move to other parts of the body.
Despite being a common type of cancer worldwide, liver cancer is relatively uncommon in the UK, with just over 4,000 new cases diagnosed each year*.
The exact cause of liver cancer is unknown, but most cases are associated with damage and scarring of the liver known as cirrhosis. There are a number of causes of cirrhosis, including:
- Heavy and harmful drinking
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which occurs when small deposits of fat build up inside the tissue of the liver. It’s a common condition and causes no noticeable symptoms in most people, but in some individuals the high levels of fat cause the liver to become inflamed, causing scarring
- Having hepatitis B or C, which is spread by blood contact. If you smoke or regularly drink alcohol and have hepatitis C, your risk of developing liver cancer further increases. Early treatment of long-term hepatitis C with antiviral medication can prevent the liver becoming scarred
- Having haemochromatosis, which is a genetic condition where the body stores too much iron from food
- Having primary biliary cirrhosis, which is a rare and poorly understood liver condition estimated to affect around 1 in every 3,000 people in England and Wales*.
Liver cancer symptoms usually include:
- Liver pain; pain in the upper right portion of the abdomen under the ribs
- Jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
- Weight loss
If any of these symptoms apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once, as your chances of recovery are much higher if your cancer is diagnosed early.
If you’re referred to CCL for diagnosis, your consultant or oncologist will advise you on which tests are relevant to your individual symptoms. A variety of different tests are used to diagnose liver cancer, including:
- A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan, which is a procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body
- A PET-CT scan, which combines a Computerised Tomography (CT) scan and a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan into one scan to give more detailed information about your cancer. A CT scan takes pictures from all around your body and uses a computer to put them together. A PET scan uses a very small amount of an injected radioactive drug to show where cells are active in the body
- A biopsy, where cell samples are taken for examination for signs of cancer
- A laparoscopy, which is where a small incision is made in your abdomen under general anaesthetic and a flexible camera called an endoscope is used to examine your liver
At CCL, patients with liver cancer are treated by a team of different specialists, called a Multi-Disciplinary Team, or MDT. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient. Options for treating liver cancer vary from case to case, based on the general health of the patient and the stage of the cancer. Treatment could include:
- Surgery, where the affected area is removed
- Radiotherapy, where high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
- Chemotherapy, which involves the use of chemical agents which are toxic to cancer cells, destroying them and preventing them from spreading to different areas. This can be given by injection or in tablet form
- Biotherapy, which is the use of newer and more targeted therapies to assist the body in fighting the disease
Cancer doesn’t just leave a physical impact on an individual, but that it can have a huge emotional effect as well. Cancer and its treatment can be overwhelming, causing a wide variety of emotions, and it is important to remember that there is no right or wrong response. Reactions vary hugely from person to person, and most people find that it becomes easier to cope when they’re given additional support, so that’s what we do.
At CCL we provide support both physically and emotionally before, during and after treatment. We offer a wide range of services for patients, as well as their loved ones, designed to make a very difficult time as easy as possible, and to give our patients the best treatment and support possible.