Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a cancer of hepatocytes, cells that form the bulk of the liver. HCC is a primary cancer that starts in the liver, as opposed to liver cancers that spread from other organs (metastatic liver cancers). HCC is the sixth most prevalent cancer and is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Over 500,000 people are diagnosed with HCC each year; 20,000 of these cases are from the United States.
The majority of liver cancer develops from cirrhosis (long-term damage and scarring of the liver). Cirrhosis can be caused by alcohol abuse, infection by hepatitis B or hepatitis C, hemochromatosis, chronic inflammation, or autoimmune disease. However, HCC can even develop in patients who do not develop cirrhosis. General risk factors of the disease are age, gender (men are twice as likely as women to develop HCC), and family history. Environmental and lifestyle factors such as exposure to known carcinogens, obesity, and tobacco smoking can also contribute to the development of the disease.
Symptoms of HCC do not appear in the early stages of the disease. In later stages of HCC, patients may experience pain, weight loss, fever, nausea and vomiting, abdominal swelling, fatigue, and decrease in appetite. Once discovered, HCC tumors may be removed in patients who are good candidates for surgery. Other treatment options vary with the stage of the disease; they include liver transplantation, ablation, trans-arterial chemoembolization, and radioembolization. However, recent one-year survival rates for HCC in the U.S. have remained less than 50 percent. The survival rate over five years in the U.S. has remained below 12 percent.
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