Cancer of the Liver
Alternate Names : Hepatocellular Carcinoma, Hepatoma
Cancer of the liver occurs when cells in the liver undergo changes that make the cells grow and divide uncontrollably. This is called primary liver cancer. Cancer from other places in the body can also spread to the liver. Cancer that has spread to the liver is called liver metastasis.
What is going on in the body?
The liver is a vital organ that functions to help the body to digest foods by producing substances to aid digestion. Many blood system activities occur in the liver, such as production of clotting factors. The liver also helps filter out certain wastes. The waste products are then eliminated from the body. When the liver is affected by cancer, it can no longer serve these functions.
The liver will
begin to fail when a significant portion is replaced by cancerous tissue. Cancer in the
liver can also block the elimination of waste products. This causes the waste products to
build up in the blood. If untreated, the liver will fail completely and the person will die.
Primary liver cancer can spread to other parts of the body such as the lungs and bones.
What are the causes and risks of the disease?
Someone who has had
hepatitis B or
hepatitis C may be at higher risk for primary
cancer of the liver. An individual who has had cirrhosis of the liver is at much higher
risk. There may be other risk factors, such as the use of male and female hormones, for the development of this form of cancer. The
relationship of those factors to liver cancer is controversial.