What causes primary liver cancer?

A cancerous tumor starts from one abnormal cell. The exact reason why a cell becomes cancerous is unclear. It is thought that something damages or alters certain genes in the cell. This makes the cell abnormal and multiplies out of control.

Most people who develop a primary liver cancer have one or more of the following risk factors which seem to make liver cells more prone to becoming cancerous:

  • Cirrhosis. This is a condition which causes scarring of the liver. It tends to progress slowly. In the UK, the common causes of cirrhosis are heavy alcohol drinking, and infection with hepatitis C. However, there are various other causes of cirrhosis. Note: most people with cirrhosis do not develop liver cancer – it occurs in only a small number of people with cirrhosis.

  • Long-term infection with the hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus. It typically takes 20-30 years after first becoming infected to develop primary liver cancer. Infection with these viruses is not common in the UK, but it is becoming more common. However, these are common infections worldwide, particularly in Asia and Africa. Many young children in these areas are infected with the hepatitis B virus. This is why primary liver cancer is a common cancer in young adults in these areas of the world (developing 20-30 years after first being infected).

  • Ingesting some poisons or toxins. For example, a known risk factor is a poison called aflatoxin which contaminates some foods (for example, mould peanuts), mainly in developing countries.

  • Some conditions which cause persistent inflammation of the gut increase the risk slightly of developing a cholangiocarcinoma (an uncommon type of primary liver cancer) – for example, ulcerative colitis.

  • There is some evidence that smoking can increase the risk.

  • A parasitic infection (liver fluke) which mainly occurs in Africa and Asia increases the risk of developing a cholangiocarcinoma.

What are the symptoms of liver cancer?

There may be no symptoms in the early stage of the disease. As the cancer grows, the first symptoms to develop may be quite vague and nonspecific. For example, feeling generally unwell, feeling sick (nausea), loss of appetite, weight loss and tiredness. Many people who develop primary liver cancer will already have symptoms associated with cirrhosis. If you already have cirrhosis and your health becomes worse quite quickly, the cause may be a liver cancer which has developed.

As the cancer develops further, more specific symptoms which may also develop include:

  • Abdominal pain over the liver area.

  • Jaundice. Jaundice is when you go yellow. You tend to first notice it when the whites of the eyes become yellow. It is due to a build-up of the chemical bilirubin which is made in the liver. This occurs if the bile duct becomes blocked by the cancer. Bile and bilirubin cannot drain out from the liver and so leak into the bloodstream.

  • Itch (caused by the jaundice).

  • Swelling of the abdomen. This can be due to the growing cancer itself. It may also be due to ascites which is fluid that builds up in the abdomen which occurs with various liver disorders.


How is cancer of the liver diagnosed and assessed?


Screening using ultrasound, and sometimes also a blood test for alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), at 6- to 12-month intervals, has been recommended for people at high risk of liver cancer. This includes people with liver cirrhosis associated with infection with hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus. This can detect liver cancer at an earlier stage and therefore improve the chance of successful treatment.

Initial assessment

If liver cancer is suspected, you are likely to have a number of tests. These aim to:

  • Confirm that you have a cancer in the liver. Also, that the cancer is a primary liver cancer and not a secondary liver cancer.

  • Assess the stage of the cancer. That is, how much of the liver is affected and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

  • Assess the state of your liver function and your general health.

Therefore, a range of tests are usually needed. They may include:

  • Scans such as ultrasound scan, CT scan or MRI scan. These can help to show the exact location and extent of the cancer.

  • A liver biopsy. This is usually done to confirm the type of cancer. A biopsy is when a small sample of tissue is removed from a part of the body. The sample is then examined under the microscope to look for abnormal cells.

  • Blood tests help to assess the liver function and your general health.

  • Other tests may be done if the above do not clarify the situation. For example, alaparoscopy is sometimes done. This is a small operation to look inside the abdomen with a flexible telescope.


Search for Dato’ Master and his best acupuncture in Google here.

cure kl cure malaysia