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Clinical Specialties - Cancer

Liver Cancer

Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancer MDTA liver cancer diagnosis is life-changing. Learning as much as you can about the disease helps you feel better prepared and can make it easier to speak to your doctor and feel confident asking questions about your condition, treatment options and care.

The liver cancer experts at Sydney Adventist Hospital use several methods to confirm your diagnosis and determine the stage of your disease. They have experience with early-stage as well as complex cancer; have access to advanced diagnostic tools and a wide range of treatments, including clinical trials. At the same time, our supportive care clinicians help you manage side effects to support your quality of life.

Explore this section to learn more about liver cancer, its side effects and your treatment options.

About liver cancer

Liver cancer is cancer that starts in the tissues of the liver and can be termed primary or secondary. Primary liver cancer occurs when malignant cells first form in the liver and spread in the liver. Secondary liver cancer occurs when cancer that began in another part of the body has later spread to the liver.

The liver is the body’s largest internal organ. It is located below the right lung and is divided into left and right lobes. The liver has many functions. It helps store nutrients from food, aids with digestion and clears toxins from the body.

Depending on the stage and nature of the cancer, treatment may differ for primary versus secondary cancers.

According to Australian Cancer Council statistics in 2014, 1961 people were diagnosed with liver cancer in Australia. Men are three times as likely to be diagnosed as women.

What are the symptoms of liver cancer?

Like many types of cancer, liver cancer symptoms often do not appear in the early stages. As a result, liver cancer tends to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage.

The symptoms of liver cancer may be different for each person and any one of these symptoms may be caused by other, benign conditions.

When present, common liver cancer symptoms may include:

  • Weakness and tiredness
  • Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen
  • Severe pain and/or swelling of the abdomen
  • Appetite loss and feeling sick
  • Weight loss
  • Yellowing skin and eyes
  • Pale bowel motions
  • Fever

If you experience any of these symptoms or have concerns, please contact your general practitioner (GP).

How is liver cancer diagnosed?

The first step to treating liver cancer is to get an accurate diagnosis. The type of tests chosen by medical specialists to diagnose liver cancer will depend on the symptoms. Blood tests can reveal whether there is abnormal liver function or to look for chemical markers that may indicate the presence of liver cancer. Doctors may also use imaging technologies such as Computed Tomography (CT) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans to examine the liver for possible tumours. They may also take a tissue sample (biopsy) to see if there are any cancer cells present.

Imaging technologies such as an ultrasound scan, may be performed for doctors to obtain a clear picture of the organs inside the abdomen and to look for primary liver cancer. If doctors need a more detailed examination of organs, CT scans and MRI scans may also be required. These tests show the size and location of possible tumours in the liver, and if the cancer has spread.

Once a diagnosis has been made, your integrated team of liver cancer experts will use these imaging and laboratory tests to track the size of the tumours, monitor your response to treatment, and modify your plan when needed.

What are my treatment options?

Based on your diagnosis, our multidisciplinary team of liver cancer experts will prepare a treatment plan that will target liver tumours with some of the most advanced treatments and technology available.

Surgery is often not required for primary liver tumours. This may be because the liver tumour may be so small that other treatments may be all that is required or conversely it may already be too advanced to treat with surgery. In some cases though, surgery may be an option.

Some of these treatments may include:

  • Radiation therapy
  • Interventional radiology
  • Chemotherapy
  • Minimally invasive techniques using CT, ultrasound or MRI
  • Targeted therapy
  • Gastroenterology
  • Immunotherapy

Your MDT will explain your treatment plan and what surgery (if any) or therapies are required. Make sure that you ask them any questions you have, including what support services are available to you. Accessing these support services can help make dealing with your experience at little easier.

Resources and useful liver cancer links
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Sydney Adventist Hospital Clinical Specialties and Services