Be A Liver Lover: Advice From Your Oncologist About Liver Cancer Screening

The liver is one of the most vital organs of your body. Acting as your body’s cleanser, your liver help to flush out toxins from your blood, thus ensuring that clean, healthy blood is received by other organs. Your liver also produces bile, an alkaline fluid that helps digest fat and store sugar that supplies energy to your body.

Just like in other parts of the body, liver cells can also grow abnormally, causing cancerous tumours to form.

According to the National Cancer Centre Singapore, liver cancer is the fourth most common cancer affecting Singaporean men. It occurs in 22 out of 100,000 individuals each year. Liver cancer is also the third most fatal cancer, claiming lives in as short as six months if the cancer is left untreated.

Seeing your oncologist for liver cancer screening is crucial especially if you have risk factors for developing liver cancer.

Liver Cancer Causes & Risk Factors

Discuss with your oncologist in Singapore if you have some of these known liver cancer causes and risk factors:

  1. Hepatitis B carrier status: According to The World Health Organization, Hepatitis B is a potentially life-threatening viral infection that leads to hardening of the liver (cirrhosis), liver cancer, or both. A vaccine against this global health hazard has been available since 1982 and has been proven 95% effective in preventing the infection. If you are infected with Hepatitis B, do inform your oncologist so that proper liver cancer screening may be considered. Most persons who have been infected with Hepatitis B do not get fully treated, as such, they must continue with the treatment for the rest of their lives to suppress the virus from replicating.
  2. Hepatitis C infection: Unlike Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C has no vaccine for prevention. This virus primarily rests in the blood and can infect through blood to blood contact. Like Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C can cause liver cancer. To prevent Hepatitis C infection, your oncologist will advise you to stop sharing needles, razors, towels and other objects which potentially carry blood infected with Hepatitis C.
  3. Family History: Do inform your oncologist if someone in your family has liver cancer. Risk for Hepatocellular Carcinoma or HCC, the most common type of liver cancer, is 155% higher in individuals whose family members have liver cancer.
  4. Too much alcohol intake: Be honest with your oncologist about your drinking habits. Over-consumption of alcohol damages your liver and can lead to liver cancer.

Liver Cancer Signs & Symptoms

As your oncologist would explain, liver cancer symptoms do not usually show especially in the early stage of the disease but do observe the following signs and symptoms:

  • A palpable lump on the right side of your abdomen just below your rib cage
  • Pain on your right shoulder or the right side of your abdomen
  • Yellowing of your skin (Jaundice)
  • Bloating
  • Darker urine
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue

Your oncologist may order further screening procedures if he or she detects lumps and finds these symptoms upon physical examination.

Liver Cancer Screening Procedures

Your oncologist may order the following tests to confirm if your symptoms indicate liver cancer:

AFP Blood Test. Certain substances in the blood can be linked to cancer. One such substance is the Alpha-fetoprotein. Your blood test may show higher level of AFP if you have liver cancer.

Ultrasound, CT, or MRI Scan. Your oncologist may also order scans that will show images and confirm the presence of lumps in your liver.

Laparoscopy and Biopsy. Your oncologist may use a thin tube with a light that will allow him to observe your liver and other organs near it for signs of lumps and other abnormal growth. Once detected, your oncologist may also conduct a biopsy, which means taking samples of tissue from the lump or abnormal growth, which he or she will take to the laboratory to determine whether the tumour or growth is benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Consult With Your Oncologist About These Liver Cancer Treatment Options

Surgery is the leading treatment option for liver cancer. Your oncologist may perform liver cancer surgery, or he or she may refer you to a liver surgeon known as a Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary surgeon.

Your oncologist will be honest with you that other options of liver cancer treatment only seek to prolong life, but not cure it. These include chemotherapy, radiofrequency ablation which injects electrodes into the cancerous tissue through a probe, and percutaneous alcohol injection, which injects alcohol into the tumour to destroy the cancer.

It is important to see an professional oncologist to get advice on which method is most appropriate for your condition.

Remember, early detection and treatment of liver cancer increases your chance to survive this fatal disease. Visit an oncologist in Singapore at The Harley Street Heart & Cancer Centre today to get a clear and honest liver cancer screening.

Additional references:

Hepatitis B infection

HCC Risk

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