Hepatocellular Carcinoma, the formal name used in referring to types of liver cancer, is most often caused by chronic damage to the liver over time by another type of liver disease. (1) It is estimated that in this year alone over 27,000 men and women will be diagnosed with liver cancer in the United States. Of this number, more than half are not expected to live past the first year. (2)
We at Grassroots Health are passionate about raising awareness of chronic diseases that affect Americans. That being said we will conclude our extensive blog series, discussing many types of common liver diseases and their health risks, with hepatocellular carcinoma.
In order to get a better understanding of this disease, let us recap: The liver is the body’s largest internal organ and is located in the upper right side of the abdomen. It is known as “the body’s metabolic factory because of the important role it plays in metabolism—the way cells change food into energy after food is digested and absorbed into the blood.” The liver’s predominant roles include (3):
- Taking up, storing, and processing nutrients from food—including fat, sugar, and protein—and delivering them to the rest of the body when needed.
- Making new proteins, such as clotting factors and immune factors.
- Producing bile, which helps the body absorb fats, cholesterol, and fat-soluble vitamins.
- Removing waste products the kidneys cannot remove, such as fats, cholesterol, toxins, and medications.
Causes of Liver Cancer
Liver cancer is specifically linked to cases where there is scarring of the liver (cirrhosis); which occurs over time from chronic liver diseases such as:
- Alcohol abuse
- Autoimmune diseases of the liver
- Hepatitis B or C virus infection
- Inflammation of the liver that is long-term (chronic)
- Iron overload in the body (hemochromatosis)
Diagnosis and Treating Liver Cancer
Because liver cancer is a secondary result of another type of liver disease, once it begins producing symptoms it is often too late for any kind of reversal . However, it is still extremely important to not only be aware of how to recognize symptoms of liver disease, but also to know the necessary steps involved with diagnosing and treating them so that any possible chance of liver cancer developing can be caught in the primary stages before it actually develops. When symptoms are present they can include but are not limited to the following (1):
- Abdominal pain or tenderness, especially in the upper-right part
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Enlarged abdomen
- Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)
- Unexplained weight loss
Liver cancer can be diagnosed with multiple different tests, but is confirmed with a liver biopsy. Some of these other preliminary tests include (1):
- Abdominal CT scan
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Liver biopsy
- Liver enzymes (liver function tests)
- Liver MRI
- Serum alpha fetoprotein
Treatment options will vary based on how far the cancer has progressed. Options can range from surgery to remove tumors, to chemotherapy and radiation that work to shrink the size of tumors. However, it is difficult to successfully treat with radiation in cases of cirrhosis leading to cancer. (1) “If the cancer can't be surgically removed or has spread outside the liver, there is usually no chance for long-term cure. Treatment instead focuses on improving and extending one's life. Treatment in this case is chemotherapy, and can be taken as pills or given through a vein (by IV).” (1)
Affordable Healthcare Solutions
If you have been diagnosed with liver cancer or if you experience any of the symptoms listed above, we recommend that you follow up with your physician as often as they request so that they can monitor your condition and work to prevent a life-threatening situation from occurring. If you are uninsured or have health insurance that you cannot afford, there are still some affordable healthcare options available.
Grassroots Labs is a company that we partner with in the mission of creating healthcare options that are affordable, convenient and efficient for everyone. On their website GrassrootsLabs.io, they have created an online laboratory test store where individuals can browse a large variety of lab tests that are significantly discounted from the traditional mark-up rates that you find at hospitals and doctors offices. Included in their store is an affordable lab test panel for liver function that includes the majority of the lab tests listed above; in addition to many individual tests that are used in diagnosing and managing diseases of the liver. Their online store also features affordable panels for high blood pressure, diabetes and thyroid disease. These are just a few examples of the many tests they provide for managing chronic diseases and for meeting a wide variety of healthcare needs. For a full biography of Grassroots Labs click here.
We cannot stress enough the importance of regularly monitoring overall health; which is why we strive to make this possible by finding innovative solutions to healthcare that make it more affordable for people to access. In addition, by partnering with like-minded companies such as Grassroots Labs we are able to bridge the gaps between healthcare services by making them valuable to everyone.