Bile receives its yellow color from bilirubin. Bilirubin is formed from the breakdown of old red blood cells. Your spleen breaks down your old red blood cells. The hepatocytes metabolize the hemoglobin in old red blood cells into a form of bilirubin that can be excreted with bile. This form of bilirubin is called “conjugated bilirubin.” It eventually is removed from your body in your urine or stools. Only a very small amount returns to your bloodstream.
Liver cancer may cause a persistent loss of appetite and weight loss without trying. You may feel very full, even after eating a small amount of food. You may have pain or tenderness in the right upper part of your abdomen or stomach area. Your abdomen may be enlarged or appear swollen. You may bruise or bleed easily. Jaundice may cause your skin and eyes to have a yellow-green color.
Some liver tumors can produce hormone problems that interfere with the function of other organs, causing hypercalcemia, hypoglycemia, and gynecomastia. Hypercalcemia means high blood calcium levels. Hypercalcemia can cause weakness, low blood sugar levels, fainting, confusion, and coma. Hypoglycemia results from low blood sugar levels. Hypoglycemia can cause weakness, headache, visual changes, anxiety, personality changes, and coma. Gynecomastia causes breast enlargement in men.
Ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are used to show pictures of your liver. An angiography may be used to show the blood supply that leads to the liver. A laparoscopy uses a thin tube that transmits images to a video monitor. The laparoscope is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen. A biopsy is usually the only way to determine if cells are cancerous or not. A biopsy involves obtaining a tissue or fluid sample for examination.
If you have liver cancer, your doctor will assign your cancer a classification stage based on the results of all of your tests. Staging describes the cancer and how it has metastasized. Cancer that has spread from its original site to other parts of the body is termed metastasized cancer. Staging is helpful for treatment planning and recovery prediction.
There is more than one type of staging system for cancer, and you should make sure that you and your doctor are referring to the same one. Generally, lower numbers in a classification system indicate a less serious cancer, and higher numbers indicate a more serious cancer. The stages may be subdivided into classifications that use letters and numbers.
Your doctor will also use terms to describe how your cancer may be treated. Localized resectable liver cancer describes cancer that may be cured with surgery. Unresectable cancer may not be cured with surgery and describes widespread liver cancer or cancer that has spread outside of the liver. Your doctor will also describe the amount of liver cirrhosis, which is considered during treatment planning.
Am I at Risk
Risk factors may increase your likelihood of developing liver cancer, although some people that develop liver cancer do not have any risk factors. People with all of the risk factors may never develop the disease; however, the chance of developing liver cancer increases with the more risk factors you have. You should tell your doctor about your risk factors and discuss your concerns.
Risk factors for liver cancer:
_____ Liver cancer is more common in men than women.
_____ Liver cancer is more common in developing countries in Africa and Asia than it is in the United States.
_____ Cirrhosis is the most frequent cause of liver cancer in the United States. Smoking, alcohol abuse, Hepatitis B and C, hemochromatosis, and chronic inflammation can contribute to cirrhosis.
_____ Smoking tobacco increases the risk of liver cancer. People that smoke and abuse alcohol have the greatest risk.
_____ Viral liver diseases, such as Hepatitis B and C, or certain inherited liver diseases increase the risk of liver cancer. Hepatitis A does not appear to increase the risk of liver cancer.
_____ Diabetes increases the risk for liver cancer.
_____ It appears that obesity may increase the risk for liver cancer.
_____ Cancer causing substances called aflatoxins are produced by a fungus in contaminated food products such as peanuts, wheat, soybeans, corn, and rice. Long-term exposure to aflatoxins increases the risk of liver cancer. This is more of a concern in countries outside of the United States. In the United States, products are tested for aflatoxins.
_____ Vinyl chloride and thorium dioxide (thorotrast) are industrial chemicals that may increase the risk of liver cancer.
_____ Anabolic steroids used by some athletes can increase the risk of liver cancer.
_____ Arsenic exposure increases the risk of liver cancer.
_____ Many types of cancer can metastasize or spread to the liver, including colorectal, kidney, pancreatic, stomach, breast, esophageal, lung, and melanoma cancer.
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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.
The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on February 16, 2022. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.