Posted on May 20, 2019
Hepatoma, also called hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and hepatocarcinoma, is a primary malignant tumor. Contrary to secondary liver cancer, primary liver cancer originates in the liver. (Secondary liver cancer is cancer that spreads to the liver from another organ.)
Hepatoma is the most common type of primary liver cancer. It occurs predominantly in patients with underlying chronic liver disease - with cirrhosis accounting for 80-90% of cases. A late stage of liver damage, cirrhosis is most commonly caused by chronic alcoholism, or hepatitis B or C infection. Fatty liver disease (FLD) can also lead to cirrhosis, putting patients at high risk of developing liver cancer.
Hepatoma is the fifth most common cancer in the world, and the third most common cause of cancer-related death. The highest prevalence is in Asia, due to high rates of hepatitis infection. In the US, hepatoma is less common, with alcohol-induced cirrhosis accounting for the majority of cases. Hepatoma occurs more often in men than in women and is usually diagnosed in people aged 50 and older.
Identifying hepatoma can be difficult and requires multiple radiographic imaging modalities. This is because hepatocellular carcinoma liver lesions have a variety of appearances in imaging and can often be mistaken for other types of liver lesions.
Before a hepatoma diagnosis is confirmed, it is imperative benign liver lesions are carefully ruled out. To ensure accuracy, all radiographic images should be interpreted by a subspecialist radiologist. Familiarity in differentiating liver lesions takes years of experience and can mean the difference between a misdiagnosis.
In patients with suspicious yet inconclusive image studies who lack a history of cirrhosis or other chronic liver disease, a biopsy may be required to confirm malignancy. However, a diagnosis via MRI or CT scan is preferred to avoid invasive procedures.
Hepatoma does not usually cause any symptoms during the early stages.
As the cancer progresses, it may cause the following symptoms:
Treatment for hepatoma varies depending on the stage of cancer. Early-stage hepatoma cases, where liver function is still normal, may be treated with surgical removal of the tumor. However, as the cancer progresses and liver function is compromised, patients may need a liver transplant. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy, and immunotherapy are other hepatocellular carcinoma treatment methods.
Patients with cirrhosis are at greatest risk for developing hepatoma. It is strongly advised that those with chronic liver disease undergo semiannual surveillance.
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An easy 3-step process - instantly upload your scans, select an expert subspecialty radiologist (or have DocPanel assign your case to the appropriate subspecialist), and submit your request. Upon uploading your scans, you’ll also have the opportunity to ask any questions you might have about your case. Not sure what a subspecialist is? Learn more with our in-depth article on the importance of getting a second opinion from a subspecialty radiologist.
Dr. Richard Semelka, leading expert in abdominal imaging, has been practicing radiology for over 28 years. He’s written over 16 text-books, 370 peer-reviewed papers, and has over 21,000 research citations in Abdominal Imaging.