Liver Cancer (Hepatic Cancer)

Liver cancer, also known as hepatic cancer, is cancer that occurs initially in the liver tissue, and grows directly at the expense of hepatic cells (liver cells). The development of the tumor occurs most often as the result of a chronic hepatic disease such as cirrhosis or hepatitis B or C, and in rare cases on a healthy liver.

Hepatic cancer is one of the most aggressive cancers of the digestive system. But numerous researches have been increased in recent years to improve the survival rates. In certain countries patient can expect to live longer with the disease after treatments. For additional information, please see liver cancer treatment.

Metastatic or Primary Liver Cancer? 

A primary liver cancer refers to a malignant tumor that has developed directly from the liver cells. Sometimes, however, the liver can also be affected by metastasis, cancerous cells from another organ elsewhere in the body (colon, breast…) that have detached from the tumor site and migrate to the liver. The treatment of primary liver cancer and liver metastases are completely different.

Anatomy and Functions of the Liver  

The liver is a complex large organ which occupies the upper part of the digestive system. It is located on the right side of the abdomen, just below the ribs. It is composed of two lobes. These lobes are essentially made up of cells called hepatocytes that are organized in small groups known as lobules, which group around a central vein. The liver is the only organ that is able to regrow or to regenerate lost tissue. After ablation, provided there is at least a quarter of hepatic tissue left, new cells can be manufactured quickly, allowing the remaining liver tissue to swell and regain the size to function properly.

The liver accomplishes many functions to help the body stay healthy. Among its many functions, it produces bile, which helps the body absorb fats and cholesterol. It stores glucose, vitamins and minerals from digestion and releases them into the blood at the right time when the body needs them. The liver filters out toxic which can be absorbed by eating, drinking, or from the environment. It also helps to store and process nutrients absorbed by the intestines, make proteins that contribute to blood clotting. And finally, it also plays an important role in the regulation of the levels of glucose (blood sugar) and certain hormones in the body.

The disease occurs when a group of cells, due to certain carcinogenic factors, becomes malignant and reproducing anarchically without dying by the natural programmed cell death (apoptosis). Most of the times, the tumor is long advanced before producing any symptom. Please see liver cancer symptoms for more information.

Types of Liver Cancer 

Although there are different types, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC, also called malignant hepatoma) represents about 90% of primary liver cancers. It takes its name from liver cells from which it develops, hepatocytes. This tumor tends to occurs on liver damaged by disease; although rare cases have been found to form in individuals with a normal liver.

Other rare forms of liver cancer can affect cells of the blood vessels, angiosarcoma, which attacks the lining of blood vessels of the liver; or biliary tract, such as cholangiocarcinoma, which affects the bile duct that leads bile from the liver to the gallbladder.

  Types of Liver Cancer (see more details)


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