Liver Cancer

Cancer that originates in the liver is relatively rare in the United States, worldwide, however, it is one of the most common malignancies. The precise cause of the cancer is unknown, but chronic hepatitis is a major precipitating factor, as is cirrhosis, a disease in which scar tissue replaces normal liver cells. Other contributing factors include occupational exposure to vinyl chloride and similarly toxic chemicals, the use of synthetic testosterone and other anabolic steroids to build muscle mass, and alcoholism. Because liver cancer is more prevalent in sub Saharan Africa and the Far East, some experts theorize that environmental and cultural factors playa strong role in its development. In its early stages, liver cancer usually has no noticeable symptoms. When symptoms develop, they initially include fatigue, loss of appetite and weight, and vague discomfort in the upper right abdomen, possibly with a spread of pain to the shoulder and back. As the cancer progresses, jaundice a yellowing of the skin, whites of eyes, and mucous membranes develops. In its advanced stages, liver cancer produces ascites, noticeable swelling caused by fluid retention in the abdomen.

Diagnostic Studies And Procedures

Palpating, or pressing, on the upper abdomen may reveal that the liver is enlarged and hard, forming a lump below the rib cage on the right side. A doctor may employ various methods to visualize the liver, including X rays, CT scans, MRI, and ultrasound studies. But a biopsy is necessary for a firm diagnosis. This can be done by inserting a needle into the liver to remove a small sample of tissue. A doctor may order ultrasound or laparoscopy to locate suspicious areas that should be biopsied. For the second procedure, a viewing tube is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen, allowing examination of the liver and other abdominal organs. A biopsy sample can be taken at the same time. Angiography, special X-ray studies of blood vessels after injection of a dye, can provide important information about the type and size of the tumor.

Medical Treatments

Surgical removal of a localized tumor, such as hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver cancer, sometimes produces a cure. Because the liver has a remarkĀ­able ability to regenerate itself, a fairly large portion can be removed without threatening life. Chemotherapy may follow the operation. For advanced or inoperable cancer, radiation therapy may alleviate pain and prolong survival. A liver transplant is another option, especially if the cancer has not spread. The major difficulty lies in finding a healthy, genetically compatible liver from a recently deceased donor. If fluid retention is a problem, a drainage tube may be inserted into the abdomen to reduce its accumulation. Diuretics may also be prescribed.

Alternative Therapies

Although alternative therapies cannot cure liver cancer, they may help to lessen pain and other symptoms.

Acupuncture And Acupressure

These techniques can be useful for controlling pain. Pain management specialists often employ one or both as an adjunct to surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Acupressure using a point on the inner wrist is also helpful for controlling nausea from chemotherapy.


Self hypnosis is another way to relieve pain and nausea. It may be taught with other methods, such as meditation, visualization, and guided imagery, to promote a sense of well being, even if a cure is not possible.

Naturopathy And Nutrition Therapy.

A low salt diet can help to reduce fluid accumulation. Many nutritionists advocate supplements of beta carotene a precursor of vitamin A that is said to suppress cancer cells, but studies indicate that food sources are more effective than pills. These include deep green or orange vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots. Some experts also recommend tomatoes, watermelon, and red peppers, as they contain lycopene, which seems to have some anticancer potential.


This is useful in pain control and relaxation and can be of value to persons coping with the stress of living with cancer. Although there is no scientific proof, some people believe that yoga meditation, combined with other techniques such as visualization, can improve the body’s ability to heal itself, possibly by boosting the immune system.

Self Treatment

As much as possible, reduce demands on the liver. First and foremost, abstain from alcohol, which is highly toxic to this organ. This step is important, even if you do not have liver cancer but fall into a high risk group for developing it or some other form of liver disease. In addition, ask your doctor if you need immunization against hepatitis. This vaccine is recommended for the sexual partners of all people who have chronic hepatitis B, as well as health care workers, male homosexuals, and others at risk of contracting the disease. Hepatitis immunization is also recommended for all infants.

Other Causes of Liver Cancer Symptoms

Meta static cancer that starts elsewhere in the body and spreads to the liver is more common than cancer that arises in that organ. Symptoms of liver cancer should initiate a search for cancer else where. Jaundice, a common symptom of liver cancer, can result from hepatitis, cirrhosis, and other liver diseases.

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