Worldwide, liver cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths after lung and stomach cancer. Liver cancer can be detected through CT scans and is treatable when caught early.
At CHI Saint Joseph Health, we’re committed to providing compassionate, high-quality cancer care to the Central Kentucky communities we serve. From the most advanced imaging technology available, to a full range of treatment options and support services, you’ll find everything you need at locations close to home.
Learn more about our comprehensive care below. To request a referral to one of our caring specialists, call 844.303.9355, or find a provider anytime online.
About Liver Cancer
Your liver is a football-sized organ that sits beneath your diaphragm and above your stomach. It has several important functions, including:
- Breaking down and storing nutrients absorbed from the intestine
- Creating the clotting factors in the blood
- Secreting bile into the intestine to help absorb nutrients, especially fats
- Breaking down alcohol, drugs, and toxic waste in the blood, which it passes through urine and stool
Liver cancer occurs when the cells inside the liver develop mutations, grow out of control and eventually form a tumor. The most common form of living cancer is Hepatocellular Carcinoma, although some forms of liver cancer are also caused by cirrhosis.
Not all cancers that affect the liver are considered liver cancer; some begin in other organs and spread to the liver; these are called metastatic cancer. These types of cancer are more common than cancers that originate in the liver.
Symptoms of Liver Cancer
Common signs include:
- Weight loss without trying
- Severe loss of appetite
- Feeling overly full after a small meal
- Nausea or vomiting
- A mass felt under the ribs either on the left or right side
- Sharp pain in the abdomen
- Pain near the right shoulder blade
- Swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen
- Jaundice (yellowing skin or eyes)
Risk Factors for Liver Cancer
It is not known exactly what causes liver cancer, but some risk factors have been associated with the majority of diagnosed cases:
- Chronic infection from hepatitis B (HBV) or hepatitis C (HBC) virus
- Irreversible scar tissue due to cirrhosis
- Inherited liver diseases like hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- Exposure to aflatoxins, poisons produced by molds that grow on poorly-stored corn and peanut crops
- Irreversible damage due to excessive alcohol consumption
Liver cancer does not usually cause signs or symptoms in the early stages, and there are currently no routine screening tests. The good news is that most of the risk factors for liver cancer can be avoided or mitigated by:
- Preventing cirrhosis, which can be accomplished by drinking alcohol in moderation, maintaining a healthy weight, and using home or workplace chemicals with caution and according to the instructions.
- Getting the vaccine for hepatitis B.
- Taking measures to prevent hepatitis C. There is no vaccine currently, but engaging in private sex, avoiding intravenous (IV) drugs and carefully choosing piercing and tattoo parlors can reduce your chance for contracting hepatitis C.
Liver cancer is usually detected at more advanced stage because it can grow quite large before it causes discomfort or pain. At CHI Saint Joseph Health, we have several ways to confirm the presence of liver cancer:
- Biopsies of liver tissue
- Blood tests
- CT (Computed Tomography) scan
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan
A doctor will evaluate your symptoms and decide which method is the least-invasive and most likely to find tumors or cancerous cells.
If you find that you have liver cancer, rest assured you have some of the Commonwealth’s best experts by your side. Our dedicated team will work closely with you to create a personalized treatment plan, which may include one or a combination of:
Surgery may be performed to remove a tumor, as well as some surrounding tissue to help ensure the cancer is eliminated. Replacing the entire liver in a transplant is also a possibility.
Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells with medicines delivered in varied cycles through either an IV or a pill. It is usually given after the surgical removal of a tumor, to kill any remaining or missed cancer cells. When larger areas of the liver are involved, treatment may involve giving chemotherapy directly into the liver, or a procedure called embolization, which blocks blood flow to parts of the liver to "starve" the tumor cells. It might also be used if the tumor has returned or spread. Whenever possible, CHI Saint Joseph Health uses newer medications that help minimize the side effects of chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy uses high energy X-rays to shrink or kill cancer cells. Radiation may also be used to help prevent recurrence of disease. These brief, painless treatments can be specifically directed at the part of the body where the cancer is located. Treatments are delivered by linear accelerators, where patients lie on a table in a specially designed room.
Throughout your journey, you’ll find a variety of cancer support services to meet your physical, emotional, spiritual and financial needs.