What is the function of the liver?
The liver is a large organ occupying the upper right portion of the abdomen. It is an important organ with many functions:
- Production of bile which is needed for the digestion of fat in the intestines
- Protein synthesis
- Storage of glucose and fat
- Breakdown of toxic substances such as alcohol
What is liver cancer?
Liver cancer also known as hepatocellular cancer (HCC), arises from hepatocytes (liver cells). HCC often develops only in liver that is severely damaged by longstanding diseases or chemicals. The liver becomes hardened and shrunken – a condition called liver cirrhosis.
When the liver cancer is small (less than 5 cm diameter), it often does not present symptoms as the liver is a large organ. When bigger and more advanced, a liver cancer can infiltrate the liver capsule or obstruct the bile ducts. At this stage, it causes symptoms.
Liver cancer can form many nodules within the liver and also spread into the blood vessels. These features make it difficult to surgically remove them.
The liver is also the seat of another type of cancer called secondary or metastatic cancer. The main cancer forms elsewhere in the body and secondary deposits are formed in the liver. A common example is colorectal cancer spreading to the liver via the bloodstream.
How common is liver cancer?
* Singapore Cancer Registry, Interim Report, 2001-2005
Worldwide, liver cancer is the 7th and 9th most common cancer in males and females respectively. In some parts of Asia and Africa, it is the most common type of cancer. In Singapore, it is the 4th among the most frequently occurring cancers in males.*