Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common type of liver cancer and the third commonest cause of cancer deaths in the world. It usually develops in patients with liver diseases like cirrhosis which is caused by alcohol abuse. Other chronic liver diseases such as those caused by hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HBC) also contribute to its development.
Obesity is another condition that increases a person’s risk of developing hepatocellular cancer because it leads to the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Diabetes also increases a person’s chances of developing this tumor. Persons with hemochromatosis which is an iron storage disease, are also predisposed to developing this condition since their body stores too much iron in the liver. Eating moldy peanuts or corn can also lead to the development of liver cancer due to the presence of a dangerous substance known as aflatoxin.
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In the early stages, persons with hepatocellular cancer do not have any symptoms. As the disease progresses, symptoms like pain in the right side of the belly and enlargement of the abdomen begin developing. Other symptoms of hepatocellular cancer include weight loss, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. Jaundice which is yellowness of the eyes and skin, is another common symptom of this condition. This jaundice is often accompanied by pale stools and dark urine.
The diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma is made by the doctor after listening to the patient’s symptoms and doing a physical examination. The doctor also requests certain blood tests like alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and liver enzymes to be done.
Persons suspected to have hepatocellular carcinoma also have special x-rays done to confirm the presence of this tumor and its extent. These imaging tests include abdominal CT scans and MRIs which use magnets and radio waves to create images of the liver. Abdominal ultrasounds, which use sound waves to create pictures of the liver, are also done.
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The doctor also orders a test known as a liver biopsy to confirm the diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma. This investigation involves numbing the belly and removing a small sample of liver tissue. This is sent to the laboratory for examination under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present.
The treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma depends on how advanced it is. If it has not spread out of the liver, it is treated by having the affected part removed by surgery. Chemotherapy medications are often given before the operation to reduce the size of the tumor.
Radiation is another form of treatment used for this tumor and it involves the use of high-energy rays to kill the cancer cells. External radiation is done by directing the beams of radiation to specific area of the belly. Internal radiation is done by the doctor injecting small, radioactive particles into the vessels that take blood to the liver to destroy them.
Chemoembolization, which involves placing chemotherapy medications inside the liver’s blood vessels, is also done to treat this tumor. Radiofrequency ablation (RFA), which destroys the cancer with radio waves, is also used for treatment. Hepatocellular carcinoma cells can also be destroyed by freezing them with a cold gas in a procedure known as cryoablation. Persons with both hepatocellular carcinoma and liver cirrhosis are treated with liver transplants.
Rare ginsenoside Rk1 is also used to treat hepatocellular carcinoma. This substance is obtained from ginseng (Panax ginseng C.A. MEYER), the herb that is used in traditional Chinese medicine as well as around the world.
Studies have confirmed that rare ginsenoside Rk1 has anti-cancer effects against hepatocellular carcinoma (1). Many cancer cells in humans have high activity of an enzyme known as telomerase and rare ginsenoside Rk1 is able to reduce this activity (2).
Hepatocellular carcinoma cells also have increased telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) mRNA expression and rare ginsenoside Rk1 is also able to reduce this expression (2) and by so doing, it reduces the growth of these cancer cells. Rare ginsenoside Rk1 has been proven to make hepatocellular carcinoma cells die (2).
- Kim et al. 2012; Kim et al. 2008
- Anti-tumor Activity of the Ginsenoside Rk1 in Human Hepatocellular Carcinoma Cells through Inhibition of Telomerase Activity and Induction of Apoptosis. Young-Joo KIM, Hak Cheol KWON, Hyeonseok KO, Jeong Hill PARK, Hyun Young KIM, Ji-Hye YOO, and Hyun Ok YANG https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/bpb/31/5/31_5_826/_pdf