Liver cancer: symptoms, diagnosis and treatment
Primary liver cancer starts in the liver. It is the sixth most common cancer in the world. Around 4,300 primary liver cancers are diagnosed in the UK each year. Rates have increased significantly over the past few decades, possibly because of a rise in drinking and obesity. Most liver cancers diagnosed in the UK are secondary cancers. Any type of cancer can spread to the liver. Common types include bowel cancer, breast cancer and pancreatic cancer.
What are the common liver cancer symptoms?
Liver cancer symptoms often don’t appear until your cancer is advanced. They include:
- unintentional weight loss
- a swollen stomach
- loss of appetite
- feeling very full after eating a small meal
- feeling sick and vomiting
- feeling very tired and weak
What are the causes of liver cancer?
Most cases of liver cancer are associated with damage and scarring of the liver, which is known as cirrhosis. This can be caused by a number of different things, including:
- drinking a lot of alcohol over several years
- having a long-term hepatitis B or C infection
- the inherited disorder haemochromatosis, which causes irons levels to slowly build up over years
- the long-term liver disease primary biliary cirrhosis, which damages the liver’s bile ducts
How we diagnose liver cancer
There are several ways we diagnose liver cancer:
- a blood test
- an ultrasound scan
- a CT or MRI scan
- a biopsy
- a laparoscopy – our surgeon makes a small cut in the abdomen and passes a camera through it
For more information on diagnostic tests visit our Cancer Diagnostics page.
What liver cancer treatments do we offer?
How we treat you depends on a number of things, like the stage of the cancer. We offer several treatments and we might suggest a combination of them.
Early Stage treatments:
Our surgeon removes the part of the liver with cancer. We’ll only do this if you have a single tumour and you either don’t have cirrhosis or you have cirrhosis that’s still at an early stage.
Microwave or radiofrequency ablation
Using needle-like electrodes, we heat the tumours with microwaves or radio waves that kill your cancer cells and cause the tumours to shrink.
We use high-energy rays similar to X-rays to kill the cancer cells. Radiotherapy can also help to control the pain. To find out more, visit our radiotherapy page.
Later stage treatments:
This is a common treatment for cancer that’s spread to the liver. We use drugs to help control the growth of our patients’ cancer and their symptoms. The type of chemotherapy we give them depends on what type of primary cancer they have. To learn more about chemotherapy treatments at our Hospital, visit our chemotherapy page.
Transarterial Chemoembolization (TACE)
This treatment delivers chemotherapy drugs straight to the tumour, rather than the whole of the body.
Selective Internal Radiation Therapy (SIRT)
This treatment delivers radioactive particles directly to the liver tumours, rather than the whole of the body.
Chemosaturation therapy is our new treatment that delivers a high dose of an anti-cancer drug directly to the liver. Because we isolate the liver from thew rest of the body during treatment, patients might not have as many of the side effects of traditional chemotherapy.
For more information on Chemosaturation visit our FAQ page.