Hepatocellular carcinoma is a type of liver cancer. Certain health conditions like cirrhosis, chronic viral hepatitis, or type 2 diabetes can increase your risk of developing this cancer.
Liver cancer is cancer that starts in the liver. The
There are different types of liver cancer. However, hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common.
In this article, we delve deeper into hepatocellular carcinoma. We look into the symptoms, how it’s diagnosed and treated, risk factors, and the outlook for people with this type of cancer.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of liver cancer. Researchers estimate that it makes up
Generally speaking, there are two different growth patterns of HCC. These are classified by how many tumors are present.
- Growth pattern 1: In the first growth pattern, there’s only one tumor that continues to grow larger. In more advanced stages, this cancer may spread to other parts of the liver.
- Growth pattern 2: The second growth pattern is
more common. In this one, there are many small areas of cancer peppered throughout the liver. This is the growth pattern that tends to happen in people that have cirrhosis (severe scarring of the liver).
The potential symptoms of HCC can include:
- abdominal pain
- dark urine
- pale stools
- itchy skin
- reduced appetite
- feeling full shortly after eating
- unintended weight loss
- nausea and vomiting
- abdominal swelling
Other potential signs of HCC may be:
- easy bruising or bleeding
- enlarged liver or spleen
- high calcium levels in the blood
- high red blood cell count
- low blood sugar
See a doctor if you have symptoms consistent with HCC. Many of these symptoms are similar to those of other conditions affecting the liver, so they may not be due to HCC. Instead, they may be symptoms of another liver condition that also needs treatment.
Like other cancers, HCC happens when liver cells start to grow and divide uncontrollably. When this happens, cancer cells can further invade liver tissue and may eventually spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.
Cancer cells behave as they do because of changes in their DNA. These can be inherited from your parents or acquired due to naturally occurring irregularities during cell division or exposure to other risk factors.
Risk factors are things that increase your risk of developing HCC. The known risk factors for HCC are:
- being of older age
- being assigned male at birth
- having certain types of health conditions, such as:
- chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C
- nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)
- type 2 diabetes
- specific inherited conditions like hereditary hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease
- consuming alcohol in excess
- being exposed to fungal toxins called aflatoxins
Having risk factors for HCC doesn’t mean that you’ll definitely get it. It means that you’re at an increased risk compared with people without risk factors.
That said, if you do have one or more HCC risk factors, consider talking with your doctor about beginning surveillance for HCC. Surveillance can involve a liver ultrasound with or without a serum alpha-fetoprotein blood test
There are several tests that are involved in the diagnosis and staging of HCC. These are:
- Blood tests: Blood tests help to give your doctor an idea of how your liver is functioning and your overall health. Blood tests related to HCC may include:
- Imaging tests: Imaging tests help your doctor visualize your liver in order to look for suspicious areas. After diagnosis, it can also be used to see how far HCC has spread. The types of imaging used for HCC can include:
- Biopsy: Liver biopsies aren’t always a part of HCC diagnosis. When one is needed, it can be checked for the presence of HCC. If HCC is found, additional tests can further characterize the cancer and its genetics.
Staging of HCC
There are several staging systems for HCC. Generally speaking, staging of HCC takes the following factors into account:
Treatment options for HCC typically depend upon:
- the stage of your HCC
- how well your liver is functioning
- your overall health
If your HCC is still in an early stage and your liver is functioning well, surgery may be recommended. A liver transplant is another potential treatment option if your HCC is in an early stage.
If surgery or a liver transplant aren’t recommended treatment options for your HCC, other treatment types may be used. These are:
- ablation, which uses heat to destroy cancer cells
- chemoembolization, which blocks blood flow to the cancer and also delivers chemotherapy to the area
- targeted therapy, which uses drugs that specifically target certain aspects of HCC cells
- immunotherapy, which works to help your immune system respond to HCC
- chemotherapy, which uses drugs that disrupt the growth and division of cancer cells
- radiation therapy, which uses high energy radiation to kill cancer cells
The outlook for HCC depends on many factors, such as:
- the stage of your HCC
- whether there’s one tumor or several tumors
- how well your liver is functioning
- the type of treatment(s) used
- how the HCC responds to treatment
- whether you’re being treated for an HCC recurrence
- your age and overall health
5-year survival rates
The 5-year survival rates for liver cancer are:
|Stage of cancer||5-year survival rate|
|If liver cancer remains localized to the liver||36.1%|
|If liver cancer spreads to nearby tissues or lymph nodes||12.8%|
|If liver cancer has spread to more distant tissues||3.1%|
These statistics don’t account for individual factors or recent advances in HCC diagnosis and treatment. While HCC can still be challenging to treat, a
HCC is the most common type of liver cancer. It’s more likely to happen in people that have risk factors, many of which are associated with liver damage such as cirrhosis, chronic viral hepatitis, or NASH.
The outlook for HCC is generally poorer than many other cancers. However, early diagnosis and treatment can help to improve outlook.
Because of this, be sure to see your doctor for symptoms like abdominal pain, jaundice, or pale stools. While these symptoms may not be due to HCC, they may be signaling another liver condition that needs attention.