Former President Jimmy Carter Has Cancer

Former President Jimmy Carter announced yesterday that he has been diagnosed with liver cancer. The 90-year-old 39th President made the brief announcement on his official website:

“Recent liver surgery revealed that I have cancer that now is in other parts of my body. I will be rearranging my schedule as necessary so I can undergo treatment by physicians at Emory Healthcare. A more complete public statement will be made when facts are known, possibly next week.”

According to the Associated Press, Carter had an elective surgery “to remove a small mass from his liver” earlier this month. At that time, a spokesperson for Carter said  that he was expected to make a “full recovery.” How these new revelations change that prognosis are unknown at the present time.

Liver Cancer

(Source: National Cancer Institute)

Adult primary liver cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the liver.

nci-vol-4358-72(1)The liver is one of the largest organs in the body. It has four lobes and fills the upper right side of the abdomen inside the rib cage. The liver has many important functions, including:

  • Filtering harmful substances from the blood so they can be passed from the body in stools and urine.
  • Making bile to help digest fats from food.
  • Storing glycogen (sugar), which the body uses for energy.

Anatomy of the liver: The liver is in the upper abdomen near the stomach, intestines, gallbladder, and pancreas. The liver has four lobes. Two lobes are on the front and two small lobes (not shown) are on the back of the liver.

The following are possible risk factors for adult primary liver cancer:

  • Having hepatitis B and/or hepatitis C.
  • Having a close relative with both hepatitis and liver cancer.
  • Having cirrhosis (scarring of the liver and poor liver function as a result of chronic liver disease)
  • Eating foods tainted with aflatoxin (poison from a fungus that can grow on foods, such as grains and nuts, that have not been stored properly).

What are the symptoms of liver cancer?

Possible signs of adult primary liver cancer include a lump or pain on the right side. These symptoms may be caused by swelling of the liver. These and other symptoms may be caused by adult primary liver cancer or by other conditions. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:

  • A hard lump on the right side just below the rib cage.
  • Discomfort in the upper abdomen on the right side.
  • Pain around the right shoulder blade.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).
  • Unusual tiredness.
  • Nausea.
  • Loss of appetite.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:

  • The stage of the cancer (the size of the tumor, whether it affects part or all of the liver, or has spread to other places in the body).
  • How well the liver is working.
  • The patient’s general health, including whether there is cirrhosis of the liver.

There are many treatment options for those with liver cancer including:

  • Surgery
  • Cryosurgery: uses a metal probe to freeze and destroy cancer cells.
  • Radiofrequency Ablation: uses a special probe to destroy cancer cells with heat.
  • Ethanol Injection: Ethanol (alcohol) is injected directly into the liver tumor to destroy cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy or chemoembolization: Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. In some cases, the chemotherapy can be directly injected into the liver tumor.
  • Radiation therapy: uses radiation (high-energy x-rays) to destroy cancer cells
  • A small number of liver cancer patients are eligible for liver transplantation as a cure for liver cancer
  • New biologic medications are being investigated for liver cancer. Biologics use the patient’s immune system to fight the cancer.
Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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