The liver is the largest and one of the most important organs in the body. It plays critical roles in many processes, including filtering waste products out of the blood, making bile to aid in fat digestion, breaking down and storing nutrients from food, and manufacturing clotting factors needed to stop bleeding. We cannot live without this essential organ.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10,000 women and 24,500 men in the United States are diagnosed with liver cancer each year. Although liver cancer is more common in other parts of the world than in this country, the percentage of Americans with liver cancer has been increasing for several decades.
VIP offers the most advanced and effective interventional radiology (IR) treatments available for liver cancer. Through every step, we’ll work with you to determine the best treatment approach and maximize your quality of life.
What Is Liver Cancer?
Cancer involves the uncontrolled growth of cells. Primary liver cancer arises in the tissues of the liver and, in the early stages, exists only in the liver. The number of people who have primary liver cancer is rising as more Americans have health conditions that affect this organ and increase the risk for liver cancer.
Secondary liver cancer forms in another organ and then spreads to the liver. This is also called metastatic cancer. In the US, cancer affecting the liver is most commonly secondary cancer, and it most often spreads from breast, colon and lung cancers. This type of cancer is referred to by the organ where it began — such as ‘metastatic lung cancer’ to describe cancer that begins in the lungs and spreads to the liver.
What Are the Common Types of Liver Cancer?
Each type of liver cancer is different in the way it develops and evolves over time, as well as in how it is most effectively treated.
Hepatocellular carcinoma, which begins in cells called hepatocytes, is the most common type of primary liver cancer. Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma, which starts in bile duct cells, is the second most common type of primary liver cancer. Other types of primary liver cancer include hepatoblastoma, fibrolamellar carcinoma, angiosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma.
The most common types of cancer that spread to the liver include:
Who Is Most Likely to Get Liver Cancer?
While the exact cause of primary liver cancer is unknown, research is increasing, and scientists are learning more about the risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing it, including:
- Age (over 55)
- Gender (men more than women)
- Family history of liver cancer
- Viral hepatitis, usually from Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C
- Cirrhosis, primarily from long-term alcohol abuse
- Diabetes and obesity
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), caused by obesity
- Anabolic steroid use
- Chronic exposure to certain substances
In the US, the risk is greatest for those with cirrhosis, longstanding hepatitis B and advanced hepatitis C.
What Are the Symptoms of Liver Cancer?
Symptoms of liver cancer often do not emerge until the disease is in its later stages. Because of the lack of clear signs, primary liver cancer is sometimes referred to as a “silent disease,” and it is seldom discovered early.
As the condition advances, symptoms may include pain on the right side of the upper abdomen, swelling or bloating in the abdomen, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, nausea and vomiting, abnormal bruising or bleeding, fatigue, weakness, jaundice and fever.
Individuals with existing cirrhosis or chronic hepatitis may notice a worsening of their symptoms without any known reason.
How Is Liver Cancer Treated?
VIP’s highly experienced team of board-certified and fellowship-trained doctors specialize in interventional radiology. Our physicians use state-of-the-art minimally-invasive technology to treat tumors directly, avoiding many drawbacks of surgical and more systemic treatments.
In creating your treatment plan, some of the important factors to consider include the stage of the cancer, the health of your liver, your age, any other health problems you are experiencing, your feelings about the treatment and its side effects, and the likelihood that the treatment will help in some way.
Your treatment options may include:
- Microwave Ablation — using electromagnetic microwaves delivered through a special needle to heat and destroy the tumor
- Transarterial Chemoembolization — using a catheter to inject particles coated in chemotherapeutic drugs into an artery that supplies the tumor
- Yttrium-90 Radioembolization — using a catheter to inject particles coated in the radioactive isotope Yttrium-90 into an artery that supplies the tumor
Knowing all of your options and having access to the resources you need will help you make informed decisions about your care. Our interventional radiologists are here to support you throughout this process, from understanding your diagnosis, to weighing your treatment options, to strategies for maintaining or improving your quality of life.
What Is the Outlook for Liver Cancer?
The outlook, also called the prognosis, depends on various factors. Liver cancer is cured for those who are able to have a successful organ transplant, for some people who have surgery to remove tumors or parts of the liver, and for some people whose IR treatments destroy the tumor.
For many people with this disease, the cancer may never go away completely, or it may return in another part of the body. These people may continue to get regular treatments to help keep the cancer under control for as long as possible. IR methods can help relieve symptoms, alleviate pain and improve patients’ ability to function in day-to-day life.
If you are interested in learning more about liver cancer survival rates, talk to your doctor. These numbers are estimates and cannot predict what will happen in a particular person’s case, but they may help you develop a better understanding of what to expect from your treatment.
Choosing Vascular and Interventional Partners for Your Liver Cancer Treatment
At VIP, our skilled team of interventional radiology doctors work alongside cancer care teams to ensure you can lead your healthiest life. We believe in developing a strong physician-patient relationship, implementing the most advanced minimally-invasive liver cancer treatments available and creating a more convenient, comfortable and personalized patient experience. We are committed to treating the whole person — not just the disease.