Liver cancer is a cancer which is found anywhere in the liver. The liver is a large organ at the top right side of your tummy and helps to digest food and remove toxins. Liver cancer may not have any symptoms, or they may be difficult to spot but if your eyes and skin have changed colours, it could indicate an early warning sign of the deadly disease.
With liver cancer, bilirubin sometimes builds up in the blood, said Cancer Council.
The site continued: “This occurs because the cancer has blocked a bile duct, the liver is not working properly (progressive liver function failure), or the liver has been replaced by widespread tumour.
“The build-up of bilirubin in the blood is known as jaundice.
“It can cause yellowish skin and whites of the eyes, itchy skin, pale faeces or dark urine.”
In a study published in JAMA Network, jaundice in cancer was further investigated.
The study noted: “Jaundice is yellowing of the skin and white of the eye, also called hyperbilirubinemia
“When red blood cells break down, bilirubin is formed. Bilirubin is part of the bile fluid produced by the liver.
“A normal liver metabolizes bilirubin to keep blood levels low.
“When liver cells are damaged or when cancer has spread to the liver or bile ducts, the function of the liver is reduced.
“The bilirubin level in the blood then increases, which causes jaundice.
One of the liver’s main functions is to remove toxic substances from the body.
When the liver cannot work well, toxic ammonia builds up in the bloodstream and it can go to the brain, leading to poor brain function.
This is known medically as hepatic encephalopathy, which causes confusion, fatigue, and drowsiness.
Anyone can get primary liver cancer, said the national health body.
It continued: “It’s not always clear what causes it.
“You might be more likely to get it if you:
- Are over the age of 60, it’s most common in people over 85
- Are a man
- Have certain medical conditions, such as hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, gallstones, diabetes, a parasite in the liver (liver flukes), and HIV
- Have a brother, sister or parent who had primary liver cancer
“Secondary liver cancer is caused by cancer cells from a cancer somewhere else in the body spreading to the liver.
“Many liver cancers are also linked to your lifestyle.”
Diagnosing liver cancer
A blood test will reveal if there are any liver function abnormalities.
A doctor may recommend imaging tests, such as an ultrasound, CT and MRI.
If your GP suspects you may have liver cancer, a piece of your liver may be removed for laboratory testing in order to make a definitive diagnosis of liver cancer.
If you have noticed a yellow tinge in your eyes and skin, it’s important to discuss this with your GP.
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