Liver cancer is cancer that occurs in the liver as either a primary or a secondary cancer (spread from another organ). It can be caused by a number of things including chemicals such as aflatoxins known to damage the DNA in liver cells, hepatitis and alcohol. Studies have shown that aflatoxins can damage something called the TP53 tumor suppressor gene, which normally works to prevent cells from growing too much. Damage to the TP53 gene can lead to increased growth of abnormal cells and formation of cancer in the liver.
Infection of liver cells with hepatitis viruses can also damage DNA. These viruses actually have their own DNA that carries instructions on how to infect cells and produce more viruses. In some patients, this viral DNA can insert itself into a liver cell's DNA where it may affect the cell's genes. While this might lead to cancer, it doesn’t always.
Excessive alcohol use can damage the liver cells causing a condition called cirrhosis, which may lead to liver cancer.
The liver consists mostly of cells called hepatocytes. It also contains other types of cells, including cells that line its blood vessels and cells that line small tubes in the liver called bile ducts. The bile ducts extend out of the liver and carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and to the intestines.
These different types of cells in the liver can form several types of malignant (cancerous) and benign (non-cancerous) tumors. These tumors have different causes, are treated differently, and have a different prognosis.
We are just starting to understand how liver cancer develops, especially as it clearly has many different causes. It is our hope at Providence Saint John’s Health Center to continue studying this vital organ and how cancer develops in order to better diagnose and treat liver cancer, and perhaps to prevent it altogether.
The multi-disciplinary team in the Gastrointestinal Oncology Center at Providence Saint John’s includes surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, gastroenterologists, pathologists and more to properly diagnose and treat your liver cancer.