In liver cancer (liver cell cancer) originate from originally healthy liver cells malignant tumors. Most of the symptoms that indicate such a cancer, until late in the disease. First signs can be fatigue, loss of appetite and weight loss. Due to the non-specific symptoms, liver cancer is often diagnosed at a late stage, which significantly reduces the chance of recovery. However, proper treatment can extend the life expectancy of many patients.
Frequency of liver cancer
While liver cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in Africa and Southeast Asia, the disease is relatively rare in Germany and other western industrialized countries, albeit with an increasing trend. In Germany, about 6, 000 people get liver cancer each year. Men are more affected by the disease than women.
In general, a distinction is made in liver cancer between primary and secondary liver cancer. Primary liver cancer is referred to when the cancer has developed from the liver cells themselves. In the liver, on the other hand, if tumors are formed in other organs - so-called metastases - this is called secondary liver cancer. Secondary liver cancer is much more common in Germany than primary liver cancer.
In primary liver cancer, a distinction has to be made between hepatocellular carcinoma, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, and bile duct carcinoma (cholangiocellular carcinoma). Both carcinomas differ significantly in their causes, symptoms and therapy. When referring to liver cancer in this article, it refers to hepatocellular carcinoma.
Causes of liver cancer
The risk of developing liver cancer is increased by certain diseases. For example, liver cirrhosis favors the development of liver cancer. Cirrhosis of the liver, in which the liver is irreversibly damaged, develops in the terminal stages of various liver diseases. About 80 percent of liver cancer patients suffer from cirrhosis.
Causes are usually a chronic hepatitis B or C disease and alcohol abuse. Since alcohol in the body is broken down by the liver, excessive alcohol consumption can cause severe damage to the organ. In the case of hepatitis infections, the duration of the disease mainly determines the extent of the damage. People who have cirrhosis of the liver should have their liver examined regularly to detect possible liver cancer at an early stage.
However, liver cirrhosis is not the only cause of liver cancer, as it is mostly independent of liver cirrhosis in areas where liver cancer is particularly prevalent. Other possible causes of liver cancer include:
- Iron storage disease (hemochromatosis)
- Exposure to chemical substances as found in solvents and pesticides
- Diabetes mellitus
- Taking sex hormones such as anabolic steroids
- Intake of mold toxins via food (aflatoxin)
Symptoms of liver cancer
In liver cancer, the symptoms often become apparent only when the disease is relatively advanced. In the advanced stage, the prognosis is usually rather unfavorable. To increase the chances of recovery, you should consult a doctor directly as soon as you experience symptoms that could indicate liver cancer.
The first signs of such a disease are usually nonspecific, including tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea and a pressure pain in the upper abdomen. In the abdominal cavity, there may be an accumulation of water (ascites). In addition, a deterioration of the general condition often occurs.
Likewise, liver cancer can lead to symptoms such as yellowing of the eyes and the skin (jaundice), a marked, unwanted loss of weight and swelling under the right costal arch. In such a case, a doctor should be consulted in any case and the cause of the complaints clarified.