For many people, the thought of developing liver cancer is almost inconceivable. The organ is essential in keeping your body working properly, and a primary function of the liver is to detoxify your body of harmful substances.
Even so, liver cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world and the third most common cause of cancer-related death in the United States. In other words, the risk of liver cancer is very real.
If you’re concerned that you or a loved one might have liver cancer, Stage 1 liver cancer symptoms may indicate a problem. Read on to learn more about the condition and its symptoms, as well as the best way to get a diagnosis and begin treatment if necessary.
What is stage 1 liver cancer
Stage 1 liver cancer is the most common type of liver cancer. It accounts for more than half of all liver cancers.
In the United States, liver cancer is the seventh most common cancer, with around 17,500 people being newly diagnosed with the disease each year. This means that around 14,500 people will die from it. Worldwide, liver cancer is the third most common cause of cancer-related death.
Common Symptoms of Stage 1 liver cancer
Unlike more advanced stages of the disease, symptoms of stage 1 liver cancer are relatively common, although they may be vague.
Here are symptoms of stage 1 liver cancer you should watch for. Once you have them, you should make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible:
- Jaundice: A yellowing of the skin and eyes, caused by a buildup of bilirubin, one of the by products of liver disease.
- Dark urine: Urine with a strong odor or a high concentration of bilirubin, caused by an inability to get rid of bilirubin.
- Itchy skin: Thirsty or sweaty skin, caused by an autoimmune reaction to cancer cells in the liver.
- Nausea and vomiting: Causes for these symptoms include liver damage from increased levels of ammonia or other toxins in the body, plus a rare condition called hepatic encephalopathy (HE), which interferes with the communication between the brain and the rest of the body.
- Weight loss: As with other cancers, most people who lose weight due to liver cancer lose muscle mass as well as fat mass. This can lead to a reduced appetite and low energy.
It may be difficult to determine if these symptoms are caused by liver cancer or another condition. In some cases, the condition will progress before symptoms are apparent.
What causes stage 1 liver cancer
There are 5 main causes of stage 1 liver cancer:
- Hepatitis: Also known as viral hepatitis, this condition causes chronic inflammation of the liver. About 90% of all cases of liver disease are unrelated to cancer. If you have chronic infection with the hepatitis B or C viruses, your risk of liver cancer is greatly increased.
- Chronic alcohol use: Long-term exposure to ethanol, the main byproduct of alcohol metabolism, can cause damage to the liver.
- Cirrhosis: This condition develops when the liver is heavily damaged from chronic liver disease, including excess alcohol use, chronic infection with the hepatitis viruses, or a rare inherited condition called hemochromatosis.
- Hepatitis C: This liver-destroying virus is typically transmitted through contact with contaminated blood.
- Hepatitis E: This viral infection is also known as viral hepatitis E, less Common Causes of Liver Cancer, and causes less severe liver inflammation than hepatitis A, B, and C.
Scientists are still trying to figure out what causes stage 1 liver cancer. We do know that the risk is highest among people with a history of alcohol or tobacco use. Alcohol is a harmful compound for the liver, and tobacco contains chemicals that are toxic to the liver.
In addition to these, some lifestyle factors may also increase your risk of liver cancer. These include:
- A diet high in red meat
- A diet low in fruits and vegetables
- Exposure to environmental toxins
- Bariatric surgery
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Who at risk of get stage 1 liver cancer
Anyone can get liver cancer, but certain groups are at an elevated risk. These include:
- People who abuse alcohol or tobacco
- People who have a history of poor oral hygiene
- People with a family history of the disease
- People with inflammatory bowel disease
- People with hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV infection
- People who live in areas with high levels of environmental toxins
Diagnosis of stage 1 liver cancer
If you have any of the above symptoms, you should seek medical attention. Your doctor will perform a physical examination to check for liver enlargement, tenderness, and jaundice. Additionally, a blood test may be performed to rule out other conditions.
If these are present, your doctor will perform a series of diagnostic tests to be sure they are not caused by something else.
These tests may include:
- An ultrasound of your liver
- Blood tests to evaluate liver function
- A computed tomography (CT) scan of your abdomen to check for metastasis
- A biopsy to obtain a sample of your liver tissue
Treatment of stage 1 liver cancer
Once you have been diagnosed with liver cancer, the only option is to treat the disease as quickly as possible. This may include surgery, chemotherapy, or a combination of both.
There is no standard treatment for stage 1 liver cancer. The prognosis, or expected survival time, is poor, with an average of less than three months.
However, research is ongoing to find new treatments and improve the quality of life for people with liver cancer. In some cases, removing the affected liver can extend life, but there’s no proof it helps in the long term. Effective treatment options for liver cancer may include:
Chemotherapy: This treatment involves the use of cancer-killing drugs to shrink large cancerous tumors in the liver as well as other parts of the body.
Radiation: High-dose external beam radiation is used primarily to treat liver cancers, but it’s also used to treat brain cancer.
Surgical removal of the liver: Sometimes a portion of the diseased liver can be surgically removed and the rest of the liver can continue to function normally. This procedure is sometimes called neoadjuvant therapy.
The type of cancer and its stage will help determine the best course of action. If your cancer is confined to the liver and spleen, surgery may be all that is necessary.
If the cancer has spread beyond the liver, your doctor will perform a procedure called a hepatectomy to remove as much of your liver as possible. This will help to prevent additional cancer growth and reduce your risk of liver failure.
If complete removal is not possible, your doctor will perform a partial hepatectomy. This is when only a portion of the liver is removed.
When should you see a doctor?
If you have any of the above symptoms, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. This is particularly true if you have been drinking excessively or smoking cigarettes.
In addition to the above, if you notice any change in your bowel habits, such as:
- An enlargement of your stomach or intestines
- An abdominal pain/pressure
- Blood in your bowel movements
- Sheets or towels that smell strongly of urine
These symptoms, in addition to the ones mentioned above, are red flags that you should seek immediate medical attention.
What are the complications of stage 1 liver cancer
The major concern with liver cancer is the development of liver cancer metastasis. This occurs when the cancer cells travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream.
If the cancer cells travel to the bones, they can cause bone pain. This is known as osteolytic bone metastasis.
Metastasis to the brain can cause neurological symptoms such as headaches or vomiting.
Cancer that has metastasized to other organs can cause the characteristic abdominal symptoms such as back pain or swelling.
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is essential that you seek medical attention. Your doctor will perform a physical examination to check for liver enlargement, tenderness, and jaundice.