About liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma)

What is liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma)?

Hepatocellular carcinoma is a cancer that starts in your liver. It's different from "secondary" liver cancers, which have spread to the liver from other organs.

If caught early, it can sometimes be cured with surgery or transplant. In more advanced cases it can’t be cured, but treatment and support can help you live longer and better. 

It's important to remember that you still have control over the decisions you make about your treatment and your life. Make sure you have people you can talk to about your plans, your fears, and your feelings. Ask your doctor about support groups, where you can meet people who know what you're going through.

Your doctor can help you understand your treatment options. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and target therapy may be some of your choices.

What are the symptoms for liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma)?

You might not have any symptoms when hepatocellular carcinoma is in an early stage. As the cancer grows, you may have one or more of these:

  • Pain in the upper right part of your belly
  • A lump or feeling of heaviness in your upper belly
  • Bloating or Swelling in your belly
  • Loss of appetite and feelings of fullness
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness or deep fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Yellow skin and eyes
  • Pale, chalky bowel movements and dark urine
  • Fever

What are the causes for liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma)?

Doctors aren't sure exactly what causes all cases of hepatocellular carcinoma, but they've identified some things that may increase your risk for getting it:

What are the treatments for liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma)?

There are many treatments for hepatocellular carcinoma. It's a big decision, so work closely with your doctor to make the right plan for you.

Your choices may include:

Radiation. This uses high-energy rays to kill your cancer cells. Two types of radiation therapy can treat hepatocellular carcinoma:

  • External: You'll lie on a table while a large machine aims beams of radiation at specific spots on your chest or belly.
  • Internal: A doctor injects tiny radioactive particles into the artery that sends blood to your liver. These block or destroy the blood supply to the tumor in your liver.

Radiation therapy can cause side effects, including nausea, vomiting, or tiredness, but these symptoms go away when treatment is done.

Chemotherapy. To treat cancer, doctors often place chemotherapy drugs directly into your liver. It's a process called "chemoembolization."

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