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Liver cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the world: it is responsible for over 700,000 deaths annually. And in America, the rate of liver cancer mortality has increased by a little more than 2 percent each year since 20071https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/about/what-is-key-statistics.html.
The most common type of liver cancer in adults is known as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). It can manifest in two distinct types of growth patterns:
Common screening tests for liver cancer include ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs2https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html. CT scans, however, expose you to potentially harmful radiation3https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emitting-products/medical-x-ray-imaging/what-are-radiation-risks-ct. Multiple studies have shown MRI to be the best of the three in detecting liver cancer4https://pubs.rsna.org/doi/10.1148/radiol.11110157 5https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1542356510009456?via%3Dihub
It is often difficult to detect liver cancer early, as the disease’s symptoms are often not present until its more advanced stages6https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/detection.html. Additionally, some of liver cancer’s most common signs can be symptoms of other conditions7https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html:
Some liver tumors can also produce hormones that affect other organs. These can in turn lead to:
If you are having any of the above symptoms you need to talk to a doctor about the appropriate diagnostic work up. The Ezra scan is a screening test for asymptomatic individuals and it is not designed to diagnose existing or suspected cancers.
It is difficult for researchers to pinpoint precisely what causes liver cancer, though they do know that liver cancer originates in genetic changes or mutations found in the DNA of normal liver cells. Sometimes, these mutations can occur in oncogenes or tumor suppressor genes, which are the genes in charge of when cells grow, divide, or die. Such mutations can at least in part be responsible for cancer and can be inherited from one’s parents or be picked up randomly during one’s life. Furthermore, some liver cancer risk factors are known to sometimes cause changes specifically in liver cell DNA8https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/what-causes.html.
Some risk factors known to increase one’s chances of developing liver cancer are9https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html:
There is currently no industry standard for screening individuals who are at an average risk of developing liver cancer. However, your doctor may recommend you get screened every six months with an ultrasound and an alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) blood test if you’re at a high risk of the disease. AFP is a protein that’s measured in the blood of individuals who have liver cancer, but it isn’t a perfect test, as many patients with early iterations of the disease have normal levels of it. And AFP levels can be higher due to other cancerous and non-cancerous conditions10https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/detection.html.
Three of the most common tests used to detect liver cancer are the ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, and angiogram. CT scans and angiograms, however, expose you to radiation that can be harmful11https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emitting-products/medical-x-ray-imaging/what-are-radiation-risks-ct 12https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/coronary-angiogram/about/pac-20384904. Furthermore, MRIs do not contain radiation and studies have shown them to be the most effective technique in detecting malignant lesions in the liver13https://pubs.rsna.org/doi/10.1148/radiol.11110157 14https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1542356510009456?via%3Dihub.
If your doctor finds that you have liver cancer, there is a chance they will perform a biopsy to further analyze the tumor cells. However, they may choose not to do so because the previously performed imaging tests were accurate enough15https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html.
Upon diagnosis, physicians generally assign a cancer a stage, in order to better inform its treatment. The most common staging approach used for liver cancer in the US is the TNM system:
The best treatment for liver cancer depends on the nature of the disease and how far it has spread. Treatment options may include: embolization, surgery, ablation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and radiation16https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/treating.html.
Please consult with a physician on treatment options as necessary.