How long can you live with liver cancer?
The overall survival rate of liver cancer patients is low and a five-year survival rate for all stages of liver cancer is only 15%, but it can vary depending on how far the cancer has spread.
The five-year survival rate of cancer confined to the liver (localized liver cancer) is 28%, whereas, for cancer spread to nearby organs (regional liver cancer) and cancer spread to distant organs or tissues (distant liver cancer) is 7% and 2%, respectively.
What is liver cancer?
Liver cancer, also known as hepatic cancer, is a type of cancer that starts in the liver. The different types of liver cancer are:
- Primary liver cancer: This cancer starts in the liver. Primary liver cancer is of many different types:
- Hepatocellular carcinoma (the common form of liver cancer)
- Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer)
- Angiosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma (cancer that begins in the cell lining of the blood vessels in the liver)
- Hepatoblastoma (cancer occurring in infants)
- Secondary liver cancer (metastatic liver cancer): Cancer that originates in the liver and spreads to other parts.
- Benign liver tumors: Noncancerous tumors may grow large enough to cause problems, but they do not grow into nearby tissues.
What causes liver cancer?
Chronic liver disease may be the main cause of liver cancer. The scarring of the liver increases the risk of liver cancer.
Other contributory factors include:
- Chronic hepatitis C
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- Male gender
- Age above 55 years
- High-risk ethnic background (Asian or Hispanic)
- Alcohol use
- Elevated iron content in the blood and other body tissues (hemochromatosis)
- Chronic hepatitis B infection
What are the signs and symptoms of liver cancer?
Symptoms are hardly seen in the initial stages. As the tumor size increases, it may cause pain in the right side of the abdomen. Some patients may have worsening symptoms of chronic liver disease or cirrhosis, which often precedes the development of cancer of the liver.
Some of the common signs and symptoms of liver cancer include:
- Unexplainable weight loss
- Decreased appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- An enlarged liver, which may be felt as fullness on the right side of the abdomen
- Enlarged spleen
- Pain in the abdomen or near the right shoulder blade
- Swelling of the feet and abdomen
- Fluid build-up in the abdomen
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
What are the treatment options for liver cancer?
The treatment options depend on the stage and type of liver cancer. The most common treatment options include:
- Surgery: This option may be useful in removing part of the liver affected by cancer. Complications of surgery include bleeding, infection, or pneumonia.
- Liver transplant: This involves replacing the cancerous cells with healthy liver cells from a donor. Rejection of the liver transplant is the major complication of this method.
- Ablation therapy: This procedure involves using heat or laser to destroy the cancerous cells.
- Embolization: This technique uses a catheter to inject particles or beads into the blood vessels supplying the cancer cells to block it. This kills the cancerous cells.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation of high frequency destroys the cancerous cells.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses medications to kill cancerous cells.