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Liver cancer is a type of cancer that affects the liver. It may be the primary form of cancer, which means the cancer begins in the cells of the liver, or it may be metastatic cancer, which means the cancer spreads from other areas of the body to the liver. This type of cancer is rare in the United States, with the average age of diagnosis being around 60 or 70. It is far more common in certain parts of Asia and in Africa. Regardless of the country, it occurs more frequently in men than in women.
There are a number of symptoms associated with liver cancer. Some of the most common symptoms include bloating and a feeling of abdominal fullness for no apparent reason. Weakness, fatigue, and unexplained fever are also signs, as is a dull pain in the upper portion of the abdomen. This pain may also extend into the patient’s shoulder and back. Anorexia is also a common symptom of this cancer, as the patient experiences loss of appetite, vomiting, and nausea.
The symptoms of liver cancer can differ in patients who also have cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis causes the symptoms to come on more quickly and to be more intense. Individuals with cancer who do not have cirrhosis, however, may not notice the symptoms at all. As the tumor grows larger, the affected person may also start to feel pain in his or her back. Portal hypertension and jaundice, which is characterized by the skin and the white portion of the eye becoming yellow, may also occur.
In order to diagnose liver cancer, a medical professional must take a computed tomography (CT) scan, a radioisotope scan, or a hepatic arteriography. Most patients are in the advanced stages of cancer before it is diagnosed. At this stage, the cancer has usually spread to other organs — most commonly the brain and the lungs — and to the lymphatic system. Individuals with liver cancer who do not receive treatment have a life expectancy of three to four months. Those who receive treatment typically live six to 18 months if the therapy used to treat the disease is successful.