Monday, October 8, 2012

Liver Cancer FAQs

Although liver cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the world, it is uncommon in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates 28,720 people will be diagnosed with liver cancer this year, and numbers have been rising by approximately 3-3.6% each year since 1992. Approximately 20,550 deaths will occur, with incidence and death rates both being higher in men than in women.

The numbers are not encouraging. Liver cancer is not discussed as often as some other cancers, possibly because the death rates are so high and 5 year survival rates tend to be low (approximately 14%). But that doesn't mean there are no prevention steps that could (and should) be taken in order to decrease one's risk. The numbers mean it's even more important to know your risks, the symptoms, and what you can do to prevent it.

In the United States, alcohol-related cirrhosis, and possibly non-alcoholic fatty liver disease associated with obesity, account for the majority of liver cancer cases. In fact, colorectal, breast, and many other cancers list obesity as a risk factor.

Cancer of the liver that did not originate there is not called liver cancer. It is the result of a metastasis of cancer from another part of the body such as the colon or ovaries, and is named after the first, or "primary" site.

Unfortunately, screening has not been proven to improve survival in liver cancer, so being familiar with signs and symptoms are especially important. Common symptoms include:
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Loss of appetite
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • General weakness and fatigue
  • An enlarged liver (occurs in 50%-90% of patients)
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Yellow discoloration of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
  • White, chalky stools
More information on liver cancer, and what you can do to reduce your risk, can be found at the Mayo Clinic website.

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