“My husband came home one day from his office reporting immense abdominal pain. We thought it was caused by food poisoning. But the pain kept on returning. So, we consulted a doctor. After many tests, it was confirmed that my husband was suffering from a special type of liver cancer known as Hepato Cellular Carcinoma. In the weeks that followed, he underwent a surgery. After this prolonged surgery, he recovered quickly. Now, he is again back to his normal life.”
- Swati Pandey, Patna
Swati’s husband was lucky; his family sought medical help without wasting much time. When diagnosed in the early stages, Hepato Cellular Carcinoma can be completely cured with surgery or liver transplant.
What is Hepato Cellular Carcinoma?
Hepato Cellular Carcinoma is a type of liver cancer. It is different from the Metastatic (secondary) liver cancer. In the Metastatic liver cancer, the cancerous cell spread to the liver after they have started in another organ (breast or colon in most instances). While the secret of Hepato Cellular Carcinoma lies in some past medical history or lifestyle issues. Most new liver cancer patients reported each year have Hepato Cellular Carcinoma. This health problem has been diagnosed extensively in patients over 50 years old.
Be on look out
As mentioned before, medical intervention on time can help one get over this liver cancer completely.
Hepato Cellular Carcinoma is mostly caused by a medical issue in the past. This puts the people who have suffered from the below mentioned medical conditions at high risk:
- Hepatitis B or C: If a person has suffered from these liver infections in the past, then there is a high probability of Hepato Cellular Carcinoma. Though one might have been cured many years ago, but the infections can form lumps over time and cause liver cancer. Simple blood tests can tell whether a person had Hepatitis B or C in the past.
- Cirrhosis: It is a serious liver condition whereby the cells in the liver are damaged and they are replaced by scar tissues. Cirrhosis can be caused by hepatitis B or C infections, side effects from certain drugs, excessive alcohol consumption or excessive iron stored in liver. Patients who get over the Cirrhosis of liver, often suffer from Hepato Cellular Carcinoma at a later date.
- Iron storage in Liver: Under this medical condition, there is too much iron stored in the liver and many other organs. This weakens the liver functioning, making it a candidate for Hepato Cellular Carcinoma attack.
- Excessive drinking habit: Having more than a couple of alcoholic drinks a day, for an extended time, is not ideal for the health. Excessive alcohol weakens the liver and it is prone to Hepato Cellular Carcinoma. The more a person drinks; there is higher risk of such liver cancer.
- Obesity or Diabetes: Obesity often leads to high deposits of iron in the liver and other organs. While diabetes patients have to intake large quantities of insulin to stay healthy, that again affects the liver. Under both these conditions, Hepato Cellular Carcinoma can affect the body.
Warning bells are ringing
Just like every other type of cancer, body of the patient sends out certain signals. It is imperative that these signals are identified and action is taken on time. So, if the below given symptoms exists waste no time in seeking medical help:
- Abdominal pain (especially in the upper right part of the abdomen)
- Enlarged abdomen
- Bruising and bleeding that is caused very easily
- Sudden and unexplained weight loss
- Yellow eyes or skin (signs of Jaundice)
Get it diagnosed
When you suffer from any of the above given symptoms and have a medical history or lifestyle issue mentioned before, you should hurry to seek medical consultation. The doctor will listen to your discomforts, perform physical examinations and suggest certain tests to ascertain suspicions of Hepato Cellular Carcinoma. These tests include:
- Blood tests
- CT Scan of Abdominal area
- Ultrasound of Abdomen
- Liver biopsy
- Liver functions tests
- Liver MRI
- Serum alpha fetoprotein
Path to Cure
There are many treatments available to cure patients suffering from Hepato Cellular Carcinoma. The doctors decide on the right course of treatment depending on the stage of cancer, health of the patient and test results. Following are some of the treatment methods:
- Radiation therapy: In this process high energy rays are transmitted into the body with an intention of killing the cancer cells. There are two types of radiations used External (targeting a specific spot) or Internal (injecting radioactive particles into the artery sending blood to the liver).
- Chemotherapy: The doctors use a thin tube, inserted into the artery supplying blood to the liver, to pass Chemo drugs. The aim is to kill the tumor by not allowing blood pass through.
- Alcohol injection: Also known as Percutaneous ethanol injection, this process is performed under local anesthesia. First of all, ultrasound scan using sound waves to find structures within the body is conducted. With this report as a guide, the doctor puts a thin needle through the tumor and injects the alcohol, destroying the cancer cells in the area.
- Cryoablation & Radiofrequency Ablation: In the Cryoablation, the doctor would administer local anesthesia to the patient, then a metal probe would be inserted into the body. A cold gas would be passed through the probe into the affected area, killing the cancer cells. While in the Radiofrequency Ablation, the same process is followed but here electric current is used to heat up and destroy the cancer cells.
- Partial Hepatectomy: The surgeon removed a part of the liver which has the cancer cells through an incision made in the abdomen area. The time for recovery varies from one patient to the next, and pain or discomfort in the abdomen area is common. Many patients have reported a feeling of diarrhea or fullness of stomach after the surgery. But all these symptoms reside soon.
- Liver Transplant: If the surgeon does not deem it possible to remove the tumor through Partial Hepatectomy, then liver transplant would be recommended. This is a lengthy process, where a suitable donor is needed and this may take a fair deal of waiting. In the meantime all the non-surgical treatments would be administered to keep the cancer under control. After the successful transplant, patients may have to stay at the hospital for up to 3 months and may take 6 months before moving back to normal life. During this time, various drugs would be suggested to make sure that the body does not reject the new liver.
In most cases Hepato Cellular Carcinoma would be completely cured with the aid of above given treatment choices. But in some cases it may recur, so frequent visits to the doctor and keeping a close eye on the symptoms is essential.