Liver cancer is more common in males than females, with males more than twice as likely to develop liver cancer over a lifetime.
Liver cancer can arise in two ways:
- Primary liver cancer (most commonly hepatocellular carcinoma) originates in the liver.
- Metastatic liver cancer results from the spread (metastasis) of cancer from other areas of the body.
In its early stages, liver cancer is difficult to detect, which is why it’s sometimes known as the “silent disease.” As the tumor grows, symptoms may include the following:
- Sudden or unexpected weight loss
- Pain in the right side of the upper abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- Swelling in the stomach area (bloating)
- Excessive fatigue or weakness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Jaundice – yellow skin and eyes, dark urine.
These symptoms do not necessarily confirm the definite presence of liver cancer. However, anyone experiencing any of the symptoms should contact their doctor immediately.
The exact cause of liver cancer remains unknown, however, the following risk factors have been associated with an increased chance of developing liver cancer:
- Chronic liver infection (hepatitis): Liver cancer can develop after years of chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus or the hepatitis C virus.
- Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis develops when liver cells are damaged and replaced with scar tissue. It may be caused by alcohol abuse, certain drugs and other chemicals or certain viruses or parasites.
- Aflatoxins: These cancer-causing substances are produced by a fungus that can contaminate peanuts, wheat, soybeans, corn and rice. Long-term exposure to aflatoxins may increase the risk of liver cancer.
- Gender: Males are twice as likely as females to develop liver cancer.
- Obesity: Obesity has been linked to increased prevalence of liver cancer.
- Family history: People with a family history of liver cancer may be more likely to develop the disease.
- Age: Liver cancer tends to be detected in people over age 60.
The more risk factors a person has, the greater one’s chance of developing liver cancer. However, many people with known risk factors for liver cancer do not develop the disease.