Primary cancer of the liver cells is called hepatocellular carcinoma, HCC, or hepatoma. HCC is the fifth most common cancer worldwide. It is also the most rapidly increasing cause of cancer in the United States.
Infection with hepatitis viruses is a major risk factor for the development of HCC. In Asia and Africa, Hepatitis B is very common, and this infection leads to about 80% of all HCC cases worldwide.
Hepatitis B can lead to cancer without the development of scarring in the liver (cirrhosis). There is now a vaccine available for hepatitis B, and several studies looking at vaccinating children against hepatitis B are showing progress in the prevention of HCC. Because many individuals in Asia and Africa are infected with hepatitis B as young children or infants, their tumors often develop at younger ages.
In western countries, about 80% of patients with HCC have underlying liver cirrhosis. The major causes for liver cirrhosis are hepatitis C infection, heavy alcohol consumption, and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome includes diabetes, obesity, and hypertension which can lead to fatty changes in the liver.
Liver cancer can be cured only when found in an early stage and before the disease has spread. Treatment regimens vary depending on the size of the tumor and whether the patient also has cirrhosis of the liver. Currently, the best chance for potentially curing liver cancer is through surgery to remove the tumor or transplant a new liver.
Liver patients also can benefit from the use of the proton therapy offered at McLaren. Proton technology is able to deliver higher doses of radiation to destroy cancer cells in the liver without causing any harm to the normal liver cells. Radiation therapy cannot cure liver cancer, but it can shrink the tumor or relieve pain.