One of the liver’s functions is breaking down drugs and alcohol and getting rid of toxins in the body. We asked Dr. Robert Lim, Senior Consultant in Medical Oncology, to tell us more about liver cancer.
Liver cancer can affect anyone. However, people with conditions including hepatitis B or C, heavy alcohol consumption, and cirrhosis (in which healthy tissue is replaced by scar tissue) are at a higher risk. While the condition can be serious, early diagnosis and treatment offer a promising outlook for many patients.
According to Dr. Lim, liver cancer is the fourth most common cancer in males in Singapore and the third most common cause of death in males. “While it is not in the top ten cancer list for females, it still ranks high in cancer deaths in females,” he added.
The most common primary type starts in the liver cells (hepatocellular carcinoma) or in the cells lining the bile ducts (cholangiocarcinoma). Secondary liver cancer is cancer that has spread to the liver from cancer that started in another part of the body.
“We diagnose using ultrasound scans, MRI or CT scans, and blood tests. A biopsy may be necessary at times as well to help conclude that it is indeed a liver cancer problem,” Dr. Lim explained.
“For high-risk patients, we advise them to go for regular ultrasound scan of the liver every 6-12 months with a blood test,” he advised.
Liver cancer may present with different issues. Unfortunately, symptoms are usually present in the later stage of liver cancer with problems such as jaundice, yellowing of the eyes, weight loss, fatigue, or pain.
“For early stage, surgery is an option and liver transplantation for selected cases. If these are not possible, we can direct treatments to the liver by using heat to shrink the tumor or deliver chemotherapy together with blocking blood vessels directly leading to the liver tumor. Both are non-surgical techniques,” Dr. Lim explained.
People who have advanced liver cancer may consider using targeted therapy drugs. “These drugs target cell signaling within cancer cells that allow cancer to grow. Most recently, immunotherapy has made significant improvements in terms of its ability to shrink and control liver cancer, and prolong survival time,” he added.