Anatomy Project – Liver Cancer

Anatomy Project – Liver Cancer


Our world leaves no shortage of dangers that
can physically damage our bodies. Life is fragile, but it has lasted for so
long because biology has found a way to recover from injuries. When you get a scratch or a cut, you’ll
notice that blood begins to leak from your body. Within days, the wound disappears. This is because of the body’s ability to
divide its cells and repair itself. However, one of biology’s best abilities
can also be one of its deadliest threats. Once a wound heals over, the cells stop dividing,
due to the command of proteins called cyclins. If cyclins were to fail, the body’s cells
would divide uncontrollably, forming a growth called a tumor. Tumors are ways in which cancer can form. However, it is worth noting that not all tumors
are classified as cancer. Tumors can be further categorized as either
benign or malignant. The difference is that a benign tumor is localized
and does not spread to other parts of the body. Benign tumors are non-cancerous. A malignant tumor, on the other hand, spreads
to other parts of the body and is cancerous; the development of spreading cancer cells
is metastasis. It is worth noting that not all cancers form
tumors. Leukemia, or cancer of the blood, is a perfect
example of this. The form of liver cancer most commonly diagnosed
is hepatocellular carcinoma. A carcinoma is a cancer that develops in the
epithelial tissue lining of the internal organs or the skin. This form of hepatic cancer can also be called
hepatoma. Liver cancer does not easily reveal itself
via symptoms and is often diagnosed at a later stage, resulting in a high mortality rate. Those symptoms include nausea, pain, and loss
of appetite. There are 4 stages of liver cancer. The stages are classified based on the size of the tumor and how far the cancer has spread. Once the cancer has reached Stage IV, it is considered advanced liver cancer. If it has a presence in the bones, liver cancer has the potential to cause fractures. 11% of patients with cancer spread to the
adjacent organs will survive another 5 years. If the cancer spreads to the outer body, this
number drops to 3%. Over 800,000 people are diagnosed worldwide
and 700,000 people die as a result of liver cancer. It is most common in sub-Saharan Africa and
Southeast Asian countries. The American Cancer Society estimates the number of primary liver cancer and intrahepatic bile duct cancer diagnoses in the U.S. to
be just over 42,000 cases in 2019. Of these, over 29,000 cases are estimated
to be cases in males, while over 12,500 are expected to affect females. It is estimated that the total U.S. death
count will be just under 32,000 people, with 21,600 of these being men and over 10,000
being women. Liver cancer occurs 3 times more often in
men than in women. The combined death rate for primary liver
cancer, gallbladder cancer, and intrahepatic bile duct cancer for women has dropped significantly
since 1930. Back in 1930, liver cancer and intrahepatic
bile duct cancer caused 19.3 deaths for women in the U.S. per 100,000 women. In 2016, that same number was down to 5.2. In men, the same cancers killed 14.1 per 100,000
men in 1930, and hit an all-time low of 5.8 in 1980. In 2016, that number was 10.7. Patients fighting liver cancer should consult
their oncology doctor— someone who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer. One treatment option is surgery, which may
either be a liver transplant or a removal of the tumor, but this can only be done before
the cancer spreads to the lymph nodes or other organs. Other options include ablation and radiation
therapy, which are similar. Ablation uses heat, lasers, or microwaves
to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to
terminate the cells that make up the tumor. Embolization is an option that operates in
the same fashion as a dam, blocking the blood flow into the blood vessels that feed the
tumor. Targeted therapy uses medication to slow the
tumor’s growth by attacking certain parts of the cell. Tyrosine kinase is an enzyme that is present
in cell functions such as signaling, growth, and division. In cancer cells, these enzymes may exist in
large quantities or be too active. Tyrosine kinase inhibitors, or TKIs are a
form of targeted therapy. Just as there are different methods of treatment,
there are different ways to identify liver cancer. Magnetic resonance imaging, more commonly
known as an MRI, uses strong magnetic fields to align the spinning protons in the body. Radio waves are introduced to alter the alignment
of these protons and when the radio pulse turns off, electromagnetic energy is released
as the protons revert back to their initial alignment with the magnet. The rate at which this energy is released
is useful for identifying different tissues. MRIs are painless and have the advantage of
avoiding X-ray radiation, but patients with pacemakers or any metal in the body are cautioned
against MRIs because of their reliance on magnets. The price of an MRI varies between states,
costing anywhere between hundreds to thousands. The average price for an MRI scan is $2,611,
without factoring insurance. An X-ray uses high-energy photons to penetrate
the patient’s body. X-rays are on the high end of the electromagnetic
spectrum and denser cell tissues, such as bones, cast a “shadow”. The image produced generally reveals harder
tissues, like bone and cartilage. It is less common for a tumor to be identified
this way. While MRIs are generally safer, X-rays are
not recommended for pregnant women because the high energy radiation may be harmful to
the fetus. The price for an X-ray varies based on location
and procedures. Without factoring insurance, the average cost
comes out to be about $1,000. More specialized X-rays tend to be more expensive,
at several thousand dollars. Computed tomography, or a CT scan, uses X-rays
at different angles to generate a 3-D image of the body. While an X-ray only uses one axis to image
the body, a CT scan uses a computer to generate a 3-dimensional image, allowing for tumors
to be more accurately identified. CT scans also have varying prices based on
location, but they generally cost about $500. Liver cancer is often identified via ultrasound,
which uses sonic waves to produce a sonogram. Ultrasound doesn’t use radiation and is
safe enough that it is actually used to monitor the fetus in a pregnant woman. An ultrasound generally costs about $300. Liver cancer awareness is represented by the
green ribbon. Institutions researching liver cancer include
the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, American Cancer Society, and
American Liver Foundation. Actions people can take to avoid cancers in
general are: get screened regularly, maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating right and exercising,
avoiding tobacco, limiting alcohol, avoiding overexposure to the Sun, getting vaccinated. practicing safe sex, and self-examining. I’d like to give a special thanks to Pat
Nilan, Sean Cabrera, and Parker Gooden for lending their voices. All sources are cited in the video description.

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