Major Forms of Cancer - Cancer of the liver

Cancer of the liver is commonly found to be the result of metastasis from other parts of the body. Cancers that originate in the liver account for less than 2 percent of the cancers reported in the United States and occur more frequently in men than in women, most frequently after the age of 40. Cancer of the liver is usually fatal.


Weakness, weight loss, and pain in the upper abdomen or right side of the chest are among the symptoms of liver cancer. A fever apparently unrelated to any infection also may mark the onset of liver cancer.


An enlarged liver with masses of abnormal tissue may be detected by an examining physician. Laboratory tests usually reveal alterations in metabolism that are associated with changes in the liver cells caused by the cancer growth. A biopsy test of the abnormal liver tissue may confirm the presence of cancer. A more direct approach is to perform exploratory surgery for examination of the liver.


If the tumor is located during exploratory surgery and the area can be excised, part of the liver is removed. Chemotherapy may also be used.

A nonsurgical therapy for liver cancer involves the use of so-called “radiolabeled antibodies.” To these molecules of antibodies, the defensive compounds of the body, radioactive substances are attached. The antibodies then seek out the cancer cells, and the radioactivity helps them destroy the cancer. The procedure has been used experimentally on patients whose tumors were too large for surgical instruments.


While the exact cause of primary liver cancer is unknown, a large proportion of cases is associated with cirrhosis of the liver. In recent years, some types of liver cancer have been traced to exposure of industrial workers to chemicals known to be carcinogenic. The high incidence of primary liver cancer in Asia and Africa is related to aflatoxins (molds) in grains and legumes, such as peanuts.

Secondary cancers of the liver are the result of primary cancers in other body areas; the liver is vulnerable to metastasis from cancers in every organ except the brain because of the pattern of blood circulation that carries cancer cells through the body.

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