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Hepatocellular Carcinoma: Types, Symptoms and Treatment

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Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most frequent type of liver cancer.

People with chronic liver illnesses, such as cirrhosis or hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection are more likely to develop hepatocellular carcinoma.

What is Hepatocellular Carcinoma?

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a type of cancer that originates in the liver. It is different from “secondary” liver malignancies, in which cancer has spread from other organs to the liver.

This type of cancer can be treated with surgery or transplantation if detected early. Although it cannot be cured in cases where the disease has reached an advanced stage, palliative treatment and support can help you live longer, manage the disease better and have a better quality of life.

What are the common symptoms of Hepatocellular Carcinoma? 

When hepatocellular carcinoma is in its early stages, you may not notice any symptoms. You may experience one or more of the following symptoms as the cancer progresses:

  • Your abdomen hurts in the top right area 
  • You have a lump or a feeling of heaviness in your upper abdomen.
  • Your abdomen  is bloated or swollen.
  • Appetite loss and feeling full all the time 
  • Loss of weight
  • Weakness or extreme exhaustion
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Skin and eyes that are yellow
  • Dark urine and pale, chalky bowel motions
  • Frequent bouts of fever

When should you seek medical attention?

If you experience any of the above-mentioned signs or symptoms, it is recommended that you consult your Apollo doctor at the earliest. 

Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment

What causes Hepatocellular Carcinoma?

It is still unclear on what specifically triggers hepatocellular carcinoma. However, there are a few factors that can raise your risk:

  1. Hepatitis B or C. Patients can develop hepatocellular carcinoma after recovering from a Hepatitis B or C infection. 
  1. Cirrhosis. When liver cells are destroyed and replaced with scar tissue, liver cirrhosis can develop. Hepatitis B or C infection, excessive alcohol consumption, certain medications, and excessive iron deposits in the liver are all possible causes of cirrhosis. Patients suffering from this condition are at a higher risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma.
  1. Alcoholism. Consuming alcohol frequently and over a long period of time can increase the chances of being afflicted with hepatocellular carcinoma. 
  1. Obesity and diabetes. Both of these disorders increase your chances of developing liver cancer. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can develop into hepatocellular cancer for patients who are diabetic and/or obese. 
  2. Exposure to aflatoxin. Hepatocellular carcinoma can be caused by this toxic chemical produced by certain types of molds on peanuts, corn, and other nuts and grains. 
  3. Common risk factors that can lead to Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Long-term liver illnesses can increase the chance of hepatocellular carcinoma, which is the most common liver cancer. The chances of developing this type of liver cancer increases if the liver has been damaged by hepatitis B or C infection. People who are heavy alcohol consumers and have fatty liver are also at the risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma.

What are the treatment options available?

Treatments for hepatocellular carcinoma include:

  1. Surgery. For patients with early-stage liver malignancies, surgery can be performed to remove the cancerous tissues, along with some surrounding tissues.
  1. Transplantation of the liver. A liver transplant from a healthy donor is another option to fully treat hepatocellular carcinoma. 
  1. Using heat or cold to kill cancer cells. For those who are unable to undergo surgery, treatment methods that use high heat or cold to eliminate cancer cells in the liver may be suggested. Radiofrequency ablation, cryoablation, and ablation with alcohol or microwaves are all examples of these techniques.
  1. Chemotherapy or radiation delivered directly to cancer cells. Doctors may use chemotherapy medications (chemoembolization) or tiny glass spheres that transmit radiation (radioembolization) straight to cancer cells, using a catheter that is inserted into your arteries and into your liver.
  1. Radiation therapy. If surgery is not a possibility, radiation therapy utilizing high doses of radiation may be suggested. Stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) is a type of radiation therapy that includes directing multiple beams of radiation at one location in your body at the same time to kill cancerous cells.
  1. Targeted Drug therapy. Certain medications target specific weak aspects  in cancer cells, and they may help people, with advanced liver cancer, in reducing the disease’s progression.
  1. Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy medications target cancer cells using your body’s immune system. Immunotherapy may be a viable treatment option for those suffering from advanced liver cancer.

A note from Apollo Hospitals

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of liver cancer in adults, and it is now the main cause of death in individuals with cirrhosis. HCC is the third leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide.

It is strongly connected to chronic viral hepatitis infection (hepatitis B or C), alcoholic liver disease, cirrhosis, or exposure to toxins such as alcohol, aflatoxin, or pyrrolizidine alkaloids or any disorder leading to chronic liver inflammation. Hemochromatosis and alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency, for example, greatly enhances the chance of developing HCC. Metabolic syndrome and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) are also well-documented risk factors for HCC.

It is important to observe a healthy lifestyle to avoid liver diseases that in turn can pose a risk for HCC. The first step in determining the severity of your issue is to contact your Apollo doctor. Based on a thorough diagnosis, your doctor will suggest the next course of action.

Getting diagnosed with cancer can be extremely stressful, but it’s important to understand that you do have several options what with advanced treatments and technology available now. Make sure you have someone who can provide emotional support and with whom you can discuss your plans, anxieties, and feelings. 

Apollo can assist you with any enquiries about support groups, where you can meet other patients who can support you and empathize with you as you undergo various curative procedures and at the same time, they can share useful insights on how they have managed the illness.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How is Hepatocellular carcinoma diagnosed?

The following tests and methods are used to diagnose hepatocellular carcinoma:

  • Liver function is assessed using blood testing.
  • CT and MRI scans 
  • A liver biopsy is performed to obtain a sample of liver tissue for laboratory testing.

Is there a genetic or hereditary component to this disease?

Yes. Hereditary hemochromatosis, which has a genetic link, is one of the risk factors for developing hepatocellular carcinoma.

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