The liver is the largest internal organ. Liver cancer arises from hepatocytes (liver cells). Liver cancer often develops in livers that are severely damaged by longstanding diseases or chemicals. When the liver cancer is small (less than 5cm in diameter), it often does not present symptoms. When tumours have become bigger and more advanced, liver cancer can infiltrate the liver capsule or obstruct the bile ducts. Liver cancer can form many nodules within the liver and spread into the blood vessels. These features make it difficult to surgically remove them. The liver is also the seat of secondary or metastatic cancers. In such cases, the main cancer forms elsewhere in the body and secondary deposits are formed in the liver.

Signs and symptom

  • Weight loss (without trying)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling very full after a small meal
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • An enlarged liver, felt as fullness under the ribs on the right side
  • An enlarged spleen, felt as fullness under the ribs on the left side
  • Persistent pain in the abdomen (belly) or near the right shoulder blade
  • Swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen (belly)
  • Itching
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Itching

Other symptoms can include fever, enlarged veins on the belly that can be seen through the skin, and abnormal bruising or bleeding.

Risk Factors

  • Chronic infection with hepatitis B and C viruses
  • Alcohol abuse leading to scar tissue formation in the liver
  • Aflatoxin, which is a poisonous substance produced in a fungus that affects peanuts
  • Inherited disorders that cause damage to the liver
  • Exposure to certain chemicals like vinyl chloride, hydrocarbons, solvents, nitrites
  • Long-term use of anabolic steroids
  • Drinking water contaminated with arsenic
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Type 2 diabetics- type 2 diabetics have been linked with an increased risk of liver cancer. This risk may also be increased because people with type 2 diabetes tend to be overweight or obese, which in turn can cause liver problems.

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