There are around over 4,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
Primary liver cancer is an uncommon but serious type of cancer that begins in the liver. This is a separate condition from secondary liver cancer, where the cancer developed in another part of the body and spread to the liver.
Over the past few decades, rates of liver cancer in the UK have risen. Although liver cancer can happen at any age, it is most common in older people. Most people diagnosed are over the age of 60. The highest rates are in 85 to 89 year olds.
Liver cancer symptoms are often vague and don't appear until the cancer is at an advanced stage. They can include:
- unintentional weight loss
- loss of appetite
- feeling very full after eating, even if the meal was small
- feeling sick and vomiting
- pain or swelling in your abdomen
- yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes
- itchy skin
- feeling very tired and weak
Visit your GP if you notice any of the symptoms listed above. They're more likely to be the result of a more common condition, such as an infection, but it's best to have them checked.
The exact cause of liver cancer is unknown, but most cases are associated with damage and scarring of the liver known as cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis can have a number of different causes, including:
- drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over many years
- having a long-term hepatitis B or hepatitis C viral infection
- haemochromatosis, an inherited disorder in which iron levels in the body slowly build up over many years
It's also believed obesity and an unhealthy diet can increase the risk of liver cancer because this can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Liver cancer is usually diagnosed after a consultation with a GP and a referral to a hospital specialist for further tests, such as ultrasound scans of your liver and blood tests. However, regular check-ups for liver cancer are often recommended for people known to have a high risk of developing the condition, such as those with cirrhosis. CT and MRI scans and biopsies can also be used to help diagnose liver cancer.
Treatment for liver cancer depends on the stage the condition is at. If diagnosed early, it may be possible to remove the cancer completely.
Treatment options in the early stages of liver cancer include surgery to remove a section of the liver, or a liver transplant. Microwaves or radio waves can also be used to destroy the cancerous cells. For more advanced cases chemotherapy can be used to slow down the spread of the cancer and relieve symptoms such as pain and discomfort.
You may be able to significantly reduce your chances of developing liver cancer by avoiding or cutting down on alcohol, eating healthily, exercising regularly and taking steps to reduce your risk of becoming infected with hepatitis B and C.