The American Cancer Society states the estimated number of 17,550 new cases of liver cancer that will be diagnosed in the United States in the year 2005. Also stated is the number 15,420 people that will die of liver cancer in the year 2005.

Primary liver cancer is a cancer which starts in the liver. Secondary or metastatic cancer is when cancer of another organ has spread to the liver.

Types of liver cancer

The liver is the largest internal organ of the body (the skin is actually the largest organ). The liver ways approximately 1500 grams and is surrounded by a fibrous capsule. It is a large gland of a dark-red color located in the upper part of the abdomen, protected by the rib cage, and is divided into sections called lobes. This helps understand the types of liver cancer.

The liver’s functions include the storage and filtration of blood, the secretion of bile, the excretion of bilirubin and other substances formed elsewhere in the body. The liver also performs numerous metabolic functions, including the uptake, storage and disposal of nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, hormones, drugs, and toxins. It also destroys harmful substances such as alcohol, and helps the body to rid itself of waste products.

The liver is connected to the small intestines by the bile duct which is a small tube. The bile duct allows the bile produced by the liver to flow to the intestines. When the bile duct becomes clogged, the patient may become jaundiced.

Tumors of the liver may be benign or malignant. The most common primary malignant liver tumor is hepatocellular carcinoma.

Symptoms

In the early stages of liver cancer there are often no symptoms. Other symptoms of liver cancer may include:

•          Loss of appetite

•          Weight loss

•          Weakness

•          Nausea

•          Jaundice

•          A vague discomfort in the upper abdomen.

•          Ascites

•          Pain in the right shoulder

•          Fever

•          Abdominal swelling

•          Elevated liver enzymes

Etiology

A number of factors are associated with the etiology of hepatocellular cancer. Risk factors include:

•          Hepatitis B

•          Gender

•          Aflatoxin contaminated food

•          Alcohol-induced cirrhosis

•          Certain drugs such as anabolic steroids, Thorotrast, and immunosuppressive agents.

•          Aromatic amines

•          Pesticides

•          Chlorinated hydrocarbons

•          Tobacco use

•          Arsenic

•          Oral Contraceptives

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