Your liver is a vital organ, located in the upper right portion of your abdomen, protected by your lower, right abdominal muscles. About the size of a football, it’s the point through which all nutrients you consume must pass.
Your liver, when it functions correctly, does three main things:
- Filters out toxins.
- Breaks down and distributes nutrients.
- Makes protein and stores glucose, vitamin B12, and iron.
Know your risks. Liver cancer can be caused by a number of factors.
Liver cancer is a cancer that originates in the liver, though many cancers like breast, colon, and lung cancers spread (metastasize) to the liver from the organ in which it originated.
Liver cancer’s cause is often unknown, but sometimes the risk factors are clear. These include:
- Long term infection with hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus
- Cirrhosis, a liver disease that causes scarring
- Excessive and prolonged alcohol use
- Exposure to chemicals
- Male gender
- Asian American or Pacific Islander descent
Symptoms often don’t appear in the early stages of liver cancer. When signs do appear, they include:
- Vomiting and nausea
- Discomfort in your upper abdomen on the right side
- Pain near your right shoulder blade or in the back
- Appetite loss
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss
- Stomach swelling
- Weakness and fatigue
- Yellow hue to skin and whites of the eyes
- A mass felt under the ribs on the right side (enlarged liver)
- A mass felt under the ribs on the left side (enlarged spleen)
- Feeling very full after a small meal
Take these actions to prevent liver cancer. Though not all of the risk factors are in your control, some definitely are. Minimize your risk for liver cancer:
- Limit your alcohol.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Be cautious around chemicals.
- Vaccinate against hepatitis B.
- Take precautions to protect yourself from hepatitis C by practicing safe sex and not injecting drugs intravenously.
- Discuss with your doctor your risks for liver cancer. People who are at high risk may be recommended for a liver cancer screening.