Liver Cancer: Signs, Symptoms and Risk Factors
October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month, making it a good time to talk about the symptoms and risk factors associated with liver cancer. Liver cancer incidence has more than tripled since 1980 with an estimated 33,000 patients diagnosed with liver cancer in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Liver cancer is also one of the most deadly cancers. Approximately 27,000 Americans die from the disease each year, making it the fifth most common cause of cancer death in men and the seventh most common cause of cancer death in women. A CDC study found that only 26% of liver cancer patients survived five years from diagnosis if the cancer had not spread beyond the liver. For those patients where it had spread, survival rates ranged from just 4% to 10%.
Who Is At Risk For Developing Liver Cancer?
There are a number of factors that increase the risk of primary liver cancer, which is cancer that begins in the liver rather than a cancer that spreads to the liver from another area of the body. These include:
- Viral Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C
- Genetic Metabolic Diseases
- Some Rare Diseases
- Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Heavy Alcohol Consumption
- Aflatoxins (long-term exposure to aflatoxins, which can form from fungal growth on nuts, soybeans, corn and rice)
While there are no guidelines for screening, many physicians will suggest regular evaluations for those at a high risk for developing liver cancer.
Signs & Symptoms of Liver Cancer
Unfortunately, the symptoms of primary liver cancer typically appear in the later stages of the disease, making early detection difficult. See your doctor if you notice any of the symptoms listed below:
- Unintentional weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling of fullness with little food
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal swelling
- Upper abdominal pain or near the right shoulder blade
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- White, chalky stools
The earlier liver cancer treatment begins, the more likely it is to be beneficial. Although having one or more of the symptoms listed above may be caused by other conditions, it is important to schedule a checkup promptly for diagnosis.
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