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Overview of Liver Tumors


Danielle Tholey

, MD, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital

Last full review/revision Apr 2020| Content last modified Apr 2020
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Liver tumors may be noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant).

Cancerous liver tumors are classified as primary (originating in the liver) or metastatic (spreading from elsewhere in the body). Most liver cancers are metastatic. Cancers often spread to the liver because when cancer cells break away from cancer elsewhere in the body, they often enter and travel through the bloodstream, and the liver filters most of the blood from the rest of the body.

Noncancerous liver tumors are relatively common and usually cause no symptoms. However, rarely, these tumors cause discomfort in the upper right part of the abdomen or cause the liver to enlarge or to bleed into the abdominal cavity. Noncancerous liver tumors include

Most noncancerous tumors are detected only when an imaging test—such as ultrasonography, computed tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)—is done for an unrelated reason. The liver usually functions normally even when a noncancerous tumor is present. Thus, results of blood tests to evaluate the liver are usually normal. Treatment may or may not be needed.

Did You Know...

  • Most liver cancers start in other parts of the body.

  • Most noncancerous liver tumors are detected by accident when an imaging test, such as ultrasonography, is done for another reason.


Fluid-filled sacs (cysts) sometimes form in the liver. Most cause no symptoms or health problems. They are detected incidentally by imaging tests.

Occasionally, if cysts are very large, they can compress other organs and/or cause pain. In these instances, draining the cyst through the skin, with or without a surgical incision, may be done. However, cysts often recur. If the cysts recur and affect quality of life or cause other significant problems, doctors may recommend liver transplantation. However, this is rare.

Rarely, people are born with many cysts in the liver (a disorder called polycystic liver disease). Usually, these people also have cysts in other organs, such as the kidneys (a disorder called polycystic kidney disease). The liver enlarges but usually continues to function well.

More Information about Liver Tumors

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Test your knowledge

Cholestasis is reduction or stoppage of the flow of bile, the digestive fluid produced by the liver. It can be caused by disorders of the liver, bile duct, or pancreas. Which of the following is a key symptom that is almost always present in people with cholestasis? 
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