Approximately 10% of fatty liver disease progress to hepatocellular carcinoma (cancer of the liver). However, this figure is often lower in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
When the hepatocytes become non-functional after displacement and loss of its contents to triglycerides, inflammatory processes may take place leading to injury to the cells. Any attempt at healing may result in fibrosis and scaring of the liver. Furthermore, blood and nerve supplies to these affected cells may be limited or totally severed leading to death and necrosis of the part of the liver affected. This stage is known as steatohepatic phase (Cirrhosis). Cirrhosis is one of the major causes of liver cancer.
Liver cancer is the fifth most common but fatal cancer in the world. Its prevalence is higher in Asia and Alaska than in any other part of the world. The prognosis of this condition is often very poor except when it is detected early enough and with prompt intervention. Occurrence of primary liver cancer (originating from the liver cells) is lower than secondary carcinoma (metastatic liver cancer).
Liver cancers are often advanced before detention due to its asymptomatic nature. Therefore, most patients barely survive beyond five years after treatment which often involves:
- Surgical removal of affected parts if the cancer is localized in a particular region. The liver cells have the ability to reproduce and replace lost portion but this is not often achieved in most situation due to rapid metastases to other parts.
- Liver Transplantation: a larger portion of the liver may be removed and the residual portion grafted with harvested part from a suitable donor.
- Destruction of affected cells either with radiation therapy, cryotherapy or chemotherapy to halt its spread to unaffected parts.
- Embolization: method of limiting blood supply to affected cells to inhibit metastases to healthy cells. However, this may be challenging because of the huge blood supply to the liver.
Many more treatment options are being invented to improve and prolong the lives of liver cancer victims.