the inside of a liver revealing a cancer cell which is spilling out a green ooze

World Cancer Awareness Day: A Focus on Hepatocellular Carcinoma

This article is not intended to give or replace medical advice from a qualified health practitioner and is to be used for informational purposes only. If you have concerns about your health, are feeling unwell, or have sudden new symptoms developing, please contact a health professional you trust.

February 4th was World Cancer Awareness Day. For those of us who have, or had hep C, the term ‘hepatocellular carcinoma’ is a scary reminder of what could be on the horizon. Understanding the terminology used by medical professionals to describe the disease, how it harms the body, and its specific symptoms are all key parts of prevention. This series aims to examine information about hepatocellular carcinoma, but in a plain-language format (to the best of my ability). In order to ensure that this information is accessible to all persons who may be facing this disease regardless of literacy level or prior medical knowledge, related medical terminology and definitions will be included beside the plain language translations in italicized font.

What is hepatocellular carcinoma?

This type of cancer is a primary cancer. This means it began growing in the liver and did not spread to the liver from other areas of the body.1 The term hepatocellular comes from the Latin words 'hepaticus' meaning 'relates to the liver' and 'cella' meaning 'small room or compartment.'2Carcinoma refers to a cancer that first grows in the cells of skin or the tissue lining organs. This includes the liver and kidneys.3

How do you get hepatocellular carcinoma?

When liver cells change into cancerous cells, it is referred to as a 'mutation. Mutated cells that have become cancerous have a singular mission, to grow and multiply. To do this, cancer cell hijack healthy cells and take over the parts inside the cell that produce energy for the cell along with the processes in which the cell uses to give itself energy (medical terminology: metabolic functions, cellular respiration).  Cancerous cells make copies of themselves  faster than normal cells (medical term: replicates or proliferate). Consequently, cancerous cells build up from growing and reproducing too fast and can create a tumor (medical term: neoplasm.)

These tumors can break apart and travel outside of the liver by way of the blood stream. Or in the cases of some cancers, through the lymphatic system. Wherever these bits of cancerous tumor cells land, cancer can develop. Cancer that grows outside of the place it first began growing by traveling through the body is referred to as 'metastasis' or 'metastatic.'4

Conclusion

Understanding how a disease works in the body and how it can affect your health is an important aspect of managing an illness. Therefore, in order for this information to be accessible it must also be understandable for various educational, socioeconomic, and comprehension levels. Health information should not be proprietary or exclusive. With hepatocellular carcinoma becoming a leading cause of death worldwide, there is no better time to start changing this.

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