When cells in the liver become malignant and grow out of control, this can cause tumours which lead to Primary Liver Cancer. Secondary (metastatic) liver cancer also occurs when a main cancer located elsewhere within the body causes the cancer cells to be deposited in the liver.
Because the liver is made up of a wide variety of cells, Primary Liver Cancer is usually named after the cells in which the cancer has developed. Main cells called the hepatocytes will usually lead to hepatocellular carcinoma or hepatoma and cells that line the bile ducts (tubes) are then called cholangiocytes. Tumours within these cells are called cholangiocarcinoma or bile duct cancer.
There are only three main causes of primary liver cancers in patients:
Chronic hepatitis B infection
Chronic hepatitis C infection
Liver disease caused by excessive alcohol consumption
However, there are other causes though less common and may include inherited liver conditions, cirrhosis (liver scarring) or even aflatoxin poisoning from mouldy peanuts, wheat, soya and grain.
The treatment for liver cancer depends on the size of the tumour and how much it has spread, and may include:
Chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells. This can be given as injections into the vein or may be injected directly into the liver cancer in a process called chemoembolization. At the same time, a gel may be injected to block the blood flow to the cancer.
Liver transplant, which involves the removal of the entire liver and replacement with a healthy donated liver. This can only be done when a donated liver is available.
Radiation therapy (high-energy X-rays) to kill the cancer cells or stop them from spreading.
Surgery called liver resection to remove the affected part. This can cure early stage liver cancer if the rest of the liver is healthy.
Targeted therapy to stop the cancer growing or spreading, or to reduce the blood flow to the cancer cells.
Tumour ablation (erosion) to directly destroy the liver cancer cells by heat or alcohol
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