Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common form of liver cancer, where the proliferation of cancer cells primarily happens in the hepatocytes. Hepatocellular carcinoma is chiefly correlated to cirrhosis of the liver and non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease (NAFLD). People who are suffering from cirrhosis or NAFLD should go for routine doctor consultations and checkups to look for signs of hepatocellular carcinoma so that it gets detected in the initial stage itself. Hepatocellular carcinoma portrays about 85%-90% of all primary liver cancers, which implies those cancers that usually originate in the liver and not another area of the body.
Hepatocellular carcinoma is a severe illness that can be fatal if not treated on time. But, if it gets detected early, hepatocellular carcinoma can be cured with surgery by removing the cancerous tumour or with a liver transplant. Other treatment options can also shrink the tumour or slow its growth and alleviate the symptoms.
Although the exact reason behind Hepatocellular carcinoma is yet unidentified, recent pieces of research exhibit that it chiefly happens when there is a change or mutation in the genetic matter or DNA of the liver cells or hepatocytes. These mutations make the cell grow abnormally in size and number without perishing. And ultimately the rogue cells accumulate in large numbers to form a mass of tissue or tumour within the organ.
Certain causative factors that increase the risk of liver cancer include:
Cirrhosis: This severe condition happens when liver cells are damaged and superseded with scar tissue. Cirrhosis makes a person more prone to hepatocellular carcinoma
Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C: The occurrence of Hepatocellular cancer increases if a person is suffering from hepatitis B or C for several years
Alcohol Abuse: Having more than two alcoholic drinks a day for several years aggravates the chance of getting hepatocellular cancer
Obesity and diabetes: Both these severe health conditions raise the risk of primary liver cancer. While obesity can direct to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which in turn can induce hepatocellular carcinoma, long-term diabetes can damage the liver or vice-versa, ultimately rising the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma
Consumption Of Anabolic steroids: These are medications that mimic testosterone and are often used by athletes to build muscle mass. Long-term consumption of these steroids can increase the risk of this type of liver cancer
Iron Storage Disease: This condition causes the storage of too much iron in the liver and other organs, causing a higher incidence of developing hepatocellular carcinoma.
Exposure To Aflatoxin: This toxic substance, which is composed of certain types of mould that thrive on corn, peanuts, and other nuts and grains, can increase the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma.
The characteristic symptoms of hepatocellular carcinoma usually vary depending on the size of the tumour and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. The common signs and symptoms include:
- A swollen abdomen
- Abdominal pain
- Occurrence of a lump (mass) in the belly that is painless to touch
- Feeling fatigued
- Loss of hunger
- Itchy skin
- Sudden weight loss
- Dark-coloured urine
- Pale, chalky bowel movements
Diagnosis And Treatment
On witnessing any of the above-mentioned signs and symptoms, do consult a specialized doctor or oncologist right away to detect the condition and commence the treatment at the earliest. The doctor usually conducts a thorough physical check-up followed by conceding the patient’s past medical history and then carries out a few of the diagnostics including:
Complete Blood Count: This test is conducted to detect an individual’s alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) levels. AFP usually gets elevated if the person is suffering from liver damage or any other form of cancer
Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP): A CMP assesses the person’s blood for 14 different substances as well as for liver function to witness any other problem
Imaging Tests: These include X-rays, CT-scan, MRI-scan, Magnetic Resonance (MRCP), Bond scans, Angiography, Ultrasound etc.
Biopsy: Inspecting a mass of tissue that is scraped off from the damaged liver to look for cancer cells and the spread of infection.
The best possible treatment chiefly depends on the size and location of the hepatocellular carcinoma, the condition of the liver, and the overall health of the patient. The available treatment options for hepatocellular carcinoma include:
Surgery: Removes the tumour and a part of the healthy tissue that surrounds it
Liver Transplant Surgery: It removes the entire liver and replaces it with a healthy liver from a donor
Ablation Procedure: A procedure that uses extreme heat or cold temperature to destroy the cancer cells in the liver. It includes procedures like cryoablation, radiofrequency ablation, and ablation using alcohol or microwaves
Embolization Therapy or chemoembolization Therapy: This treatment involves injecting chemotherapy drugs into the liver’s main artery, which is then carried to the tumour. It then temporarily obstructs the artery so that the drugs stay in the tumour longer and then gradually destroy the cells from within
Radiation therapy: It uses energy from X-rays or protons to kill the cancer cells
Targeted Drug Therapy: This method uses drugs to attack specific weaknesses in the cancer cells, to kill or slow down the spread of cancer cells
Immunotherapy: This therapy involves medications that stimulate the body's germ-fighting immune system to kill the cancer cells
Clinical Trials: These trial methods look for new and advanced liver cancer treatments to cure hepatocellular carcinoma