The liver is one of the most important organs in the body. The liver is divided into lobes and acts as a filter, cleansing the blood of harmful substances that are later passed out of the body as waste. The liver also makes bile, which helps digest fat, makes numerous proteins used by the body for many things, and stores glycogen (sugar), which provides the body with energy.
Early in the development of liver disease, there may be no symptoms at all. The following signs occur when the liver swells. (Please note: liver cancer is only one reason that livers can swell.)
A doctor may suspect liver cancer if lumps or other symptoms are found during a physical examination. Other tests may be ordered, including:
One of the biggest concerns about cancer is whether the cancer has spread (metastasized) beyond its original location. In a process called staging, the doctor assigns a number (I through IV) to the cancer diagnosis. The higher the number, the more the cancer has spread. Cancers are also categorized by how they can be treated, i.e., whether the cancer can be removed by surgery.
Liver cancer stages include the following:
Liver cancer may also be categorized as recurrent, if it comes back. Recurrent liver cancer could come back in the liver or anywhere else in the body.
Liver cancer may be treated using one or more methods: surgery, chemotherapy, loco-regional therapy, percutaneous ethanol injection and even liver transplantation.
Certain factors can affect treatment and prognosis (chance of recovery) for a person who has liver cancer. These factors include the person’s general health, the way that the liver itself is functioning, the stage of the cancer, and the levels of alpha-fetoprotein.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells or to prevent them from reproducing. Chemotherapy may be systemic (pills or injections that travel through the entire body).
Another type of chemotherapy for liver cancer is known as chemoembolization (part of loco-regional therapy) of the hepatic artery, in which the chemotherapy drug is combined with another substance to block the artery. The purpose of this therapy is to starve the tumor of blood in order to kill it, and to apply chemotherapy directly to the tumor. The liver’s blood flow is maintained by the hepatic portal vein.
This therapy involves an injection of ethanol (alcohol) into a tumor to destroy the cancer. This therapy is not used very often.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 02/18/2019