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Liver Cancer

  • What is Liver Cancer?

    Liver cancer is an abnormal growth of tissue in the liver. Primary liver cancer occurs when the tumour starts from the cells of the liver, while metastatic (secondary) liver cancer occurs when the main cancer spreads from another part of the body and deposits cancer cells in the liver. Liver cancer is more common in Asian than Western countries.

    The liver is made up of many different types of cells. Primary liver cancer is named after the cells from which the cancer developed.

    • The main cells in the liver are called hepatocytes. A cancer growing from these cells is called hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) or hepatoma.
    • The cells that line the bile ducts (tubes) are called cholangiocytes. A tumour in these cells is called a cholangiocarcinoma or bile duct cancer.
  • There are 3 main causes of primary liver cancer:

    • Chronic hepatitis B infection
    • Chronic hepatitis C infection
    • Liver disease caused by excessive alcohol consumption

    Other causes are less common and may include inherited liver conditions, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or a poison called aflatoxin that is found in mouldy peanuts, wheat, soya and grain.

  • The treatment for liver cancer depends on the size of the tumour and how much it has spread. It may include:

    • Chemotherapy destroys the cancer cells. Drugs can be given as injections into the vein or directly into the tumour via a process called chemoembolisation. At the same time, a gel may be injected to block blood supply to the tumour.
    • Liver transplant 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-ray) destroys the cancer cells or stop them from spreading. 
    • Liver resection is a surgery that removes the affected part of the liver. This can cure early stage liver cancer if the rest of the liver is healthy.
    • Targeted therapy stops the cancer from growing or spreading and reduces blood flow to the cancer cells.
    • Tumour ablation (erosion) directly destroys the liver cancer cells with heat or alcohol.
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