What is HCC?
When a cancer starts in the liver, it is most commonly a type of cancer known as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Unfortunately, this is the 3rd most frequent cause of cancer in the United States. Liver cancer is a highly treatable form of cancer and can be controlled with different types of procedures performed by interventional radiologist and special medicines. In some patients with early cancer, it can be cured with a liver transplant.
Who gets liver cancer?
The reason patient get liver cancer is cirrhosis. As chronic damage happens in the liver that leads to cirrhosis, it also causes changes in the cells that lead to cancer. In the United States, the most common causes of cirrhosis that can lead to liver cancer are hepatitis C, hepatitis B and fatty liver.
How do I know I have liver cancer?
Unfortunately, liver cancer does not cause many symptoms until it is very advanced. In those cases, it may cause pain on the right side or yellowing of the eyes and skin or jaundice. Since liver cancer is highly treatable and there are no warning signs, it is recommended that patients with advanced liver disease or cirrhosis get a picture of the liver with ultrasound, MRI or CT every 6 months. Doctors know that finding a liver tumor early can save lives.
How is a liver cancer evaluated?
Once it is suspected that a patient has a liver tumor, a special MRI or CT scan is done to understand the quality, number and size of the tumors. There are also blood tests that can be done that sometimes detect liver cancer as well. The most common blood test used is the alpha-fetoprotein (AFP). All patients with cancer of the liver should be seen by a hepatologist and then referred to a special team of doctors that review the patient’s case together known as a tumor board. This expert panel of doctors includes liver doctors, liver surgeons, cancer doctors, and radiologists. The team will evaluate the patient’s case together and come up with an expert recommendation about the plan of care.
Can liver cancer be treated?
Yes, there are many treatment options for liver cancer. The best way to way to decide on a treatment plan is to review the patient’s case at tumor board. Most often, the first line treatment is to perform a locoregional therapy. A locoregional treatment is when a special kind of doctor known as an interventional radiologist delivers a treatment to the cancer either by bringing the chemotherapy right to it or burns it with microwave. The medicines that these doctors use include chemotherapy or radiation therapy, known as a TACE or Y90.
Some patients cannot get locoregional therapy and they are better candidates for medicines like sorafenib, regorafenib, or nivoluminab. Occassionally, there are limited options for a patient, and in those cases we offer clinical trials.
On the other hand, if the tumors are able to be controlled and are not too big the patient may be a candidate for liver transplantation, which is a cure for cancer.
What is the bottom line for liver cancer?
If you have liver cancer, we are equipped to quickly evaluate your case with state of the art technology in a multidisciplinary approach. Liver cancer is highly treatable and even curable. If you don’t have liver cancer but think you are at risk, then ask.