The Basics to Know
Liver cancer is a complication of cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis, which is scarring of the liver, is a major risk factor for liver cancer. The more important point is to understand the causes of cirrhosis.
This is scarring of the liver. It is a general misunderstanding that “only alcoholics” get cirrhosis. In fact, alcohol accounts for approximately 49% of the cases of cirrhosis. Other causes include the following:
- Chronic hepatitis B
- Chronic hepatitis C
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Primary biliary cholangitis
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis
- Hereditary hemochromatosis (iron overload)
- Wilson disease (copper overload)
- Excess alcohol intake
- Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
- Cystic fibrosis
- Heart failure
- Glycogen storage disease
Two Main Types
Hepatocellular Carcinoma: this type of cancer originates in the liver (as opposed to metastatic from another organ and location). In all cancers, cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control and regulation. In cirrhosis and inflammation of the liver (i.e. hepatitis), this triggers abnormal growth and division of the liver cells, ultimately resulting in abnormal appearing liver cells (a tumor). This defective growth is usually due to some sort of mutation of the normal genetics of the cells. As listed above, cirrhosis and hepatitis are risks for this defective growth to occur. Bottom line, liver cancer is a complication of cirrhosis.
Cholangiocarcinoma: this is cancer of the bile ducts within the liver. About 10% to 20% of cancers that start in the liver are cholangiocarcinomas. These cancers start in the cells that line the small bile ducts (tubes that carry bile to the gallbladder) within the liver. Of interest, a specific disease, called sclerosing cholangitis, puts those patients at high risk for bile duct cancer.
The are numerous treatment options to treat liver cancer. These factors include the size and location of the tumor, the presence or absence of cirrhosis, and if the cancer is contained to within the liver itself. The decision for a surgical option would be considered alone, or with the addition of chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of both. Liver transplant is also a major mode of treatment in select situations.
It is important that you are being treated in a center able to offer you the latest medical, surgical, or transplant options.