What are Liver Masses?
Liver masses or lesions are a group of abnormal cells in your liver. They appear as a solid mass or nodules that can be differentiated from the normal liver tissue. The liver is one of the largest organs of the human body and is situated in the upper right portion of your abdomen. It performs some of the body’s vital functions including:
- Production of bile juice
- Storing sugars in the form of glycogen
- Purifying blood from harmful substances
- Making proteins that help in blood clotting
Types of Liver Masses
Benign Liver masses
These type of masses remain localised and do not spread to neighbouring tissues. They commonly occur in women and are of 3 types:
- Haemangiomas: This type is a group of abnormal blood vessels. They are often asymptomatic and can be removed surgically.
- Focal Nodular Hyperplasia: It is a benign lesion which never spreads and is often discovered while taking an X-ray or MRI of the liver. It can be removed surgically.
- Hepatocellular adenomas: These are benign tumours that can grow into a cancerous tumour in women taking hormone pills. Discontinuing the hormone pills may shrink the tumour.
Malignant Liver Masses
Sometimes, liver masses can be malignant (cancerous) and begin to spread into nearby tissues, lymph nodes or organs, disrupting their function. Malignant liver masses are of 3 types:
- Hepatocellular Carcinoma: This is the most common type of liver cancer that can occur due to cirrhosis of the liver.
- Cholangiocarcinoma: It is cancer that begins in the connective tissue of the bile duct.
- Angiosarcoma: It is the least common type of aggressive liver cancer that begins in the blood vessels.
Most benign tumours are asymptomatic. Malignant tumours cause symptoms including:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
- Yellow skin and eyes
- Abdominal bloating and pain
- A feeling of a lump in the upper abdomen
The common risk factors for the formation of liver masses include:
- Viral infection
- Liver cirrhosis
- Exposure to toxins
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Haemochromatosis (Iron storage disease)
Your doctor will take your medical history and perform a physical exam. Your doctor may order the following tests:
- MRI or CT scan of the abdomen
- Ultrasound scan of the liver
- Liver biopsy
- Liver function test
- Complete blood count
- Tests to screen for liver cancer
Treatment of liver masses depends on:
- Presence of cirrhotic tissue
- Whether the tumour is benign or malignant
- Size and location of the tumour
- Amount of liver tissue damaged
The various treatment options include:
- Hepatectomy: This involves the removal of the benign tumour along with a margin of surrounding healthy tissue.
- Ablation: It involves the insertion of tiny electrodes into the liver tumour through the skin. Heat is used to destroy the cancerous cells.
- Chemotherapy: This is the use of drugs to treat cancer and may be given as oral medication or intravenously through a vein.
- Radiation Therapy: High energy particles or waves such as X-rays and gamma rays are used to kill or damage cancerous liver cells.
- Targeted Cell Therapy: This involves the use of drugs which specifically target certain proteins in the cancer cells to destroy them, but does not damage the other cells of the body.
- Biological Therapy: A healthy immune system is necessary to fight cancerous cells. Biological therapy involves administering interleukins or interferons (types of proteins) to naturally defend your body against cancerous cells.