Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common form of primary liver cancer, originating from the main type of liver cells called hepatocytes. 

 

It usually develops in the setting of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, although it can also occur in individuals with healthy livers. 

 

HCC is a serious condition that can progress rapidly and has a high mortality rate.

Causes and Risk Factors

The development of hepatocellular carcinoma is often associated with the following risk factors:

  • Chronic viral hepatitis B and C infections
  • Chronic liver disease/ Cirrhosis, which can be caused by various factors such as chronic alcohol abuse, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and autoimmune hepatitis
  • Exposure to aflatoxins, which are cancer-causing substances produced by moulds that can contaminate certain foods

 

Symptoms

Symptoms of hepatocellular carcinoma may include:

  • Abdominal pain or tenderness
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • Easy bruising or bleeding

 

Diagnosis

Patients with chronic liver disease often undergo surveillance scans regularly to detect any liver abnormalities. The diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma involves a combination of imaging tests, such as ultrasound, CT scans, and MRI, as well as blood tests to assess liver function and identify specific tumor markers. A liver biopsy may also be performed to confirm the diagnosis and determine the extent of the cancer.

 

Treatment

Treatment options for hepatocellular carcinoma depend on the stage of the cancer, the overall health of the patient, and the specific characteristics of the tumor. Such decisions are usually made in a multi-disciplinary setting. 

 

Treatment modalities may include:

  • Surgical resection of the tumor
  • Liver transplantation for select patients with early-stage HCC
  • Ablation therapy, such as radiofrequency ablation or ethanol injection, to destroy the tumor
  • Transarterial chemoembolization (TACE) or radioembolization to deliver chemotherapy or radiation directly to the tumor
  • Targeted therapy and immunotherapy for advanced-stage HCC
  • Enrollment into clinical trials for novel treatments

 

Regular follow-up visits with a healthcare provider are crucial for individuals diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma to monitor the response to treatment, detect any potential recurrence, and manage any side effects or complications associated with the disease or its treatment. 

 

Early detection and timely intervention are critical in improving the prognosis and outcomes for individuals with hepatocellular carcinoma.

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