Primary Liver Cancer, Treatment & Surgery

What is a liver ?

Primary liver cancer occurs when healthy cells in the liver stop working correctly and grow out of control, forming a malignant tumour. The main type of primary liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). HCC forms in the hepatocytes (the liver’s main cell type) and is also known as hepatoma.

Around 1,900 people are diagnosed with primary liver cancer each year in Australia, affecting almost three times as many men as women. HCC is most common in people with underlying liver disease as a result of obesity, consuming too much alcohol or those infected with hepatitis B or C.

Primary Liver Cancer Symptoms

The majority of people don’t display signs and symptoms of primary liver cancer during the early stages. When symptoms do develop they can include:

  • Jaundice (yellow discolouration of the skin and eyes)
  • Dark urine colour
  • Pale stool colour
  • Abdominal pain and/or swelling
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
The risk of primary liver cancer increases with:

  • Hepatitis B or C infection
  • Cirrhosis
  • Family history of liver disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Smoking

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and are concerned, you should make an appointment with your doctor.

Primary Liver Cancer Diagnosis

If your doctor suspects you may have liver cancer following a physical exam and a series of tests, you will likely be referred to a specialist who will perform the some or all of the following diagnostic tests:

  • Liver function tests (LFTs)
  • Blood clotting tests
  • Hepatitis tests
  • Ultrasound
  • CT Scan
  • MRI Scan
  • Biopsy & biopsy testing
  • Laparoscopy

Primary Liver Cancer Treatment

Once diagnosed, your doctor will discuss the best treatment options for your cancer. Treatment options will depend on whether the patient has a background of liver disease, the presence or degree of cirrhosis and whether the cancer has spread, while considering your age, fitness and general overall health.

There are several different treatment options for primary liver cancer. These can include:

  • Ablation – such as microwave, RFA or IRE. Irreversible electroporation (IRE) is a technique using the NanoKnife system to kill cancer cells at difficult to reach locations while preserving surrounding normal tissues.
  • Liver resection (removing part of, or sometimes the whole of the left or right lobe of the liver depending on the location of the cancer).
  • TACE – this involves manipulating a catheter into the hepatic artery that supplies blood to the liver, injecting chemotherapy drugs directly into the liver and is performed in the x-ray department of hospitals that provide this service.
  • Sorafenib – a kinase inhibitor drug.
If you would like to make an appointment to discuss primary liver cancer treatment options please call our practice on (03) 9509 4811 to make an appointment, or you can book an appointment online