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Liver Cancer - What it is

The liver is one of the largest organs in the body. It is located under the diaphragm in the right upper abdominal cavity and performs many important functions, such as manufacturing various essential proteins, processing and storing nutrients, destroying toxins and poisons.

liver cancer - location of the liver

Liver cancer

Normal cells divide and reproduce in an orderly manner. Your body relies on this orderly activity to repair injuries and replace worn-out cells. Sometimes this orderly process is disturbed. This can be due to mutations in the genes of cells. Mutations in the liver can be caused by chronic inflammation due to viruses (hepatitis B and C), toxins (alcohol, alfa-toxins) and metabolic injuries (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), steatohepatitis (NASH)).

When cells grow and divide out of control, extra tissue is formed creating a mass or lump called a tumour. Tumours can be benign or malignant. Benign tumours are not cancers as they grow slowly and do not spread to other parts of the body.

Malignant tumours are cancerous growths which have the potential to spread to other parts of the body. Malignant liver tumours can be primary or secondary.

Primary liver cancer or hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) originates in the liver. HCC is the 4th most common cancer among men in Singapore, and it more commonly occurs in those aged above 50 years of age. Liver cancer is also mainly an Asian disease, and is prevalent in South-East Asia, China, Japan and Korea.

Metastatic or secondary liver cancer occurs when cancer that originates elsewhere in the body spreads to the liver. The most common type of metastatic liver tumours is caused by colon cancer that has spread to the liver.

Note: The information here on Liver Cancer will focus on hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), which is the most common type of primary liver cancer.

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