Liver cancer develops when abnormal cells start to divide and grow in an uncontrolled way in the liver. It is a relatively rare form of cancer, with around 5,900 cases diagnosed each year in the UK. It is rare but serious nonetheless: the treatment outcomes are not as hopeful other forms of cancer due to the underlying damage that is associated with it.
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Another reason treatment outcomes are not so promising for liver cancer is because the symptoms are often vague and do not appear until the cancer is at an advanced stage.
Once this happens, you may be alerted to a number of warning signs.
One warning sign is itchy skin.
According to Cancer Research UK, itchy skin normally develops as a result of another symptom associated with liver cancer: jaundice.
Jaundice is the yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.
It is caused from a blockage in the bile duct or your liver not working properly.
Other symptoms associated with liver cancer include:
- Unintentional weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling very full after eating, even if the meal was small
- Feeling and being sick
- Pain or swelling in your abdomen (tummy)
- Feeling very tired and weak
You should visit your GP if you notice any of the symptoms listed above
As the NHS explains, they’re more likely to be the result of a more common condition, such as an infection, but it’s best to have them checked.
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“You should also contact your GP if you’ve previously been diagnosed with a condition known to affect the liver, such as cirrhosis or a hepatitis C infection, and your health suddenly gets worse,” it adds.
What is cirrhosis?
Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver due to previous damage.
This scarring can cause problems with the way the liver works, increasing your risk of liver cancer, explains Cancer Research UK.
According to the charity, cirrhosis can be caused by:
- Long term infection with a virus such as hepatitis B or C
- Long term alcohol drinking
- Inherited diseases such as iron overload disorder (haemochromatosis) and alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC)
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According to the health body, some of the causes of cirrhosis also increase your risk of developing liver cancer when combined with smoking.
For example, the risk of liver cancer is increased further if you smoke and drink a lot of alcohol.
“The risk might also be higher in smokers who have hepatitis B or C infection,” adds the charity.
As a result, there is strong evidence to suggest leading a healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk of developing liver cancer.
According to the NHS, you should:
- Avoiding or cutting down on alcohol
- Eat healthily
- Exercising regularly
- Take steps to reduce your risk of becoming infected with hepatitis B and C
“Although liver cancer is relatively uncommon in the UK, the chances of developing the condition are high for people with risk factors for the condition,” explains the health site.
It adds: “Over the past few decades, rates of liver cancer in the UK have risen considerably, possibly as a result of increased levels of alcohol consumption and obesity.”
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