Liver cancer: Expert discusses symptoms and treatments
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Liver cancer is most prevalent in people affected by liver disease, a common condition in the UK. Cancer of the liver is among the more severe forms of the disease, and in some cases, may not be curable. But acting swiftly when warning signs appear can lead to a positive outcome. According to various health bodies, hormonal changes in the body could cause stool to become bulky, pale, and greasy.
One of the most apparent liver cancer symptoms is weight loss, which is also symptomatic of several other cancers.
Symptoms will vary depending on the exact location of cancer, and some symptoms like jaundice may cause their own subset of signs, such as itching.
Because many of the symptoms are vague, such as feeling sick and loss of appetite, the disease can be quite difficult to catch out early.
Because the liver controls the production of bile, a malignancy in the organ is also likely to produce noticeable changes when going to the toilet.
In the first stage of the disease, the tumour has not yet surpassed two centimetres in size and has not grown into the blood vessels.
As it advances, however, it spreads to other lymph nodes in the body, eventually invading surrounding tissue, which makes the disease more difficult to tackle with treatment.
Unfortunately, this is the stage at which symptoms are most likely to appear.
The American Cancer Society explains: “If cancer blocks the release of bile and pancreatic juices into the intestine, a person might not be able to digest fatty foods.
“The undigested fat can also cause stools to be unusually pale. They might also be bulky, greasy and float in the toilet.”
Another common side effect of liver cancer is a build-up of bilirubin in the blood, which is often caused by a blocked bile duct.
This build-up in the blood is characterised by jaundice, which may lead to yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.
Several other alterations in hormone levels are likely to occur, according to the American Cancer Society.
This may lead to:
- High calcium levels, which may cause nausea, confusion, constipation, Weakness or muscle problems
- Low blood sugar levels, which can cause fatigue and fainting
- Breast enlargement and/or shrinkage of the testicles in men
- High count of red blood cells, which can cause someone to look red and flushed
- High cholesterol levels.
What causes liver cancer?
The British Liver Trust explains: “Liver cancer often has no symptoms until it is at a late stage.
“This is why people with cirrhosis are offered regular checkups for signs of liver cancer with ultrasound scans and blood tests every six months.”
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, the primary cause of cirrhosis, affects roughly one in five people in the UK.
Fortunately, the condition can easily be curbed by limiting the intake of saturated foods.
How to detect liver cancer
Any suspicious bodily changes should warrant further investigation by a health care practitioner.
A doctor may conduct a series of blood and imaging tests, or remove a sample of liver tissue for examination.
If a biopsy produces positive results, subsequent treatments may vary depending on the stage of the disease.
Treatments for primary liver cancer include:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted drug therapy
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