October: Liver Cancer Awareness Month

Did you know that October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month? This is a great time to learn more about the liver and how to detect cancer in this important organ.

What does the liver do?

Your liver is a vital organ located under your right rib cage on your right side. It serves multiple functions, including: 

  • Breaking down toxins in the blood that are eliminated
  • Producing bile used in digesting fats
  • Storing sugar for energy
  • Producing clotting factors that keep you from losing too much blood in an injury

A healthy liver weighs about three pounds, making it the second-largest organ in the body after the skin. It is roughly shaped like a cone or flattened football.

What is liver cancer?

Liver cancer happens when cells in the liver begin to grow and multiply abnormally. Liver cancer cases have more than tripled in the United States since 1980, while the death rates have doubled.

Liver cancer may be primary or secondary. Primary liver cancer originated in the liver. Secondary liver cancer originated elsewhere in the body and metastasized (spread) to the liver.

Most liver cancers are secondary. For example, a person can have lung cancer that spreads from the lungs to the liver. In this case, it would still be called, and treated as, lung cancer.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of primary liver cancer in adults.  The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be about 42,810 new cases of primary liver cancer and intrahepatic bile duct cancer diagnosed in the United States in 2020.

How can I get tested for liver cancer?

Like many other types of cancer, liver cancer can be difficult to diagnose early because it may not show symptoms until a later stage. Screening could help detect liver cancer sooner, potentially improving survival.

A person may be at higher risk of liver cancer if they have: 

  • Cirrhosis (scarring) on the liver
  • Hereditary hemochromatosis, a disorder that causes the body to absorb too much iron and store it in the liver and other organs
  • Chronic hepatitis B infection (with or without cirrhosis)

Individuals with these conditions may benefit from liver cancer screening. This screening may involve alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) blood tests. However, these tests are not 100% accurate.

Medical imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, are another option for liver cancer screening. MRI technology uses radio waves and strong magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your body. Because MRI scans do not use radiation, they are a safe, painless option for liver cancer screening.

Besides finding tumors on the liver, MRI scans can help doctors tell a benign tumor from a malignant (cancerous) one. Providers may also use MRI scans to examine the blood vessels in and around the liver to find any blockages or cancer spread.

Early screening for at-risk individuals can help you find cancer early, when it is most treatable. Take control of your healthcare with an Ezra full-body MRI scan that could help detect and diagnose tumors. Book your scan today.