What Is Liver Cancer?
Liver cancer is to be feared being the eighth most common cancer in the world. Your liver plays an important detoxification role for your body. If your liver breaks down, digestion of your fats via bile cannot take place. Filtering of your blood to remove drugs, waste and toxins can also be severely affected. Getting liver damage or liver cancer would be disastrous as it means that all these important functions cannot be performed. In the worst case scenerio, liver cancer can result in death.
Liver cancer develops when liver cells multiply at abnormal rates. They then attack healthy parts of the same organ or neighbouring cells. Cancer cells soon spread beyond their original location to other parts and organs to establish new tumours, in a process known as metastasis.
Your liver, including every organ in your body, is comprised of cells. Cells are living things. Hence, they are born and they die. Your body is always making new cells to replace the old and dead ones. This process has to be tightly regulated. If not, there will be chaos. Cancer cells interefere with the normal functioning of this process.
Your liver, at approximately 1.5 kilograms in weight, is the biggest organ inside your body. You may not even realise the presence of a liver inside of you as it is hidden in your right upper abdomen, underneath and protected by your right rib cage. Your liver is perhaps the busiest organ in your body, tasked with numerous functions.
The liver makes the different proteins that your body needs, which include enzymes, hormones, antibodies, and other substances necessary for the proper functioning of your body. It is the power plant of your body since it is the primary source of energy. It also filters your blood to remove toxins and produces bile to help in the digestion of fat. It is the most parsimonious organ in the body, extracting anything that can be used from your blood and storing it for future use.
There are two types of liver cancer, primary and secondary. Primary liver cancer means the tumour starts from the the liver. Hepatocellular cancer (abbreviated HCC) is the most common form (90 percent) of primary liver cancer. HCC originates from hepatocytes, the liver cells responsible for most of its functions. Other types of primary liver cancer are rare. They include cholangiocarcinoma, a cancer arising from bile ducts within the liver and hepatoblastoma, which occurs in children, and gallbladder cancer.
Secondary liver cancer means the cancer started somewhere else and spread (metastasised) to the liver. In secondary liver cancer, patients do not have “liver cancer” technically. Patients are actually experiencing metastases to their liver.
Risk to developing liver cancer depends on various factors. Sex and age plays a part, as with diet and lifestyle habits. In terms of sex, men are 2.8 times more likely to be affected than women. Your risk also increases after the age of 40. High rates have been noted in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and the Philippines. Studies also show that rates are high among Chinese and Koreans in Los Angeles and among Chinese in the San Francisco Bay area, although those rates are about half of mainland China rates. A diet that comprises of processed and highly preserved foods is generally considered toxic to the liver.
The most important risk factor for liver cancer is hepatitis B virus (HBV). Patients who are located in areas with high rates of hepatitis also have high rates of HCC; conversely, HCC patients are far more likely to be hepatitis B carriers. Studies also show that men are twice or thrice more likely to develop HCC. On the other hand, women demonstrate greater survival rates than men at any stage of liver cancer.