Your liver is a football-sized organ on the right side of your belly, just below your ribs. It helps you digest food and makes substances that help your body work.
What is liver cancer?
There are 2 kinds of liver cancer:
Primary liver cancer: Cancer that started in your liver
Metastatic liver cancer: Cancer that started in another organ and spread (metastasized) to your liver
The most common primary liver cancer in adults is:
Hepatocellular carcinoma (hepatoma)
Other types of primary liver cancer are uncommon or rare.
Metastatic liver cancer is more common than primary liver cancer. Many cancers can spread (metastasize) to the liver. The most common ones are cancers of the colon Colon Cancer Your colon is your large intestine. Your rectum is a pouch at the end of your colon where stool is stored until you pass it. Cancer is the out-of-control growth of cells in your body. Cells... read more , breast Breast Cancer Cancer is when cells grow abnormally. Cancer cells don't look or work like normal cells and keep multiplying out of control. Cancer cells can invade and destroy nearby healthy tissue. Sometimes... read more , lung Lung Cancer Lung cancer is cancer that starts in your lungs. Cancers that start growing in other organs may spread (metastasize) to the lungs. Cancers that have spread to your lungs aren't considered lung... read more , and pancreas Pancreatic Cancer Your pancreas is an organ in the upper part of your belly that makes digestive juices. Your pancreas also releases insulin and other hormones that help control your blood sugar. Cancer is the... read more .
If not treated, liver cancers grow and spread and keep the liver from functioning normally. Cancers that start in other organs and spread to the liver are treated differently from primary liver cancers.
View of the Liver and Gallbladder
What causes liver cancer?
Primary liver cancer is more likely to happen in people who:
Drink too much alcohol
Have a lot of fat or scar tissue in their liver
Have too much iron in their body
Have been exposed to certain molds or chemicals
What are the symptoms of liver cancer?
At first, liver cancer may cause no symptoms, but later you can:
Not feel hungry
Feel weak and tired
Other symptoms may include:
Jaundice (when your skin and the whites of your eyes look yellow)
Uncomfortable feeling in your belly
Nausea and vomiting
Many other health problems have the same kinds of symptoms.
How can doctors tell if I have liver cancer?
Doctors may do:
Imaging tests of your belly, such as ultrasound Ultrasonography Ultrasonography is a safe imaging test that uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the insides of your body. Ultrasonography doesn't use radiation (x-rays). Ultrasonography is also called... read more , CT (computed tomography) scan Computed Tomography A CT scan uses a large machine shaped like a large donut to take x-rays from many angles. A computer then takes the x-rays and creates many detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Each... read more , or MRI Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) MRI is a test that uses a machine with a powerful magnet to make pictures of the inside of your body. A computer records changes in the magnetic field around your body. The computer then uses... read more (magnetic resonance imaging; tests that create detailed pictures of your liver and other organs inside your body)
Liver biopsy Biopsy of the Liver Doctors can obtain a sample of liver tissue during exploratory surgery, but more often they obtain a sample by inserting a hollow needle through the person's skin and into the liver. This type... read more (putting a needle through your skin into your liver to take out a small piece of tissue to look at under a microscope)
Surgery to remove a bigger piece of tissue to examine
How do doctors treat liver cancer?
Primary liver cancer
If the cancer is found early, doctors may remove the cancer with surgery. Much less often, they take out the whole liver and replace it with healthy liver from another person (liver transplantation Liver Transplantation Liver transplantation is the surgical removal of a healthy liver or sometimes a part of a liver from a living person and then its transfer into a person whose liver no longer functions. (See... read more ).
Other treatments for primary liver cancer include:
Heating or freezing the tumor with probes passed through the skin into the tumor
Injecting medicines or alcohol into the tumor
Liver cancer is often found after it has grown and spread, and sometimes these treatments don’t work well. In such cases, medicines and other treatments are given to relieve pain and other symptoms.
Metastatic liver cancer
It doesn't usually help to do surgery to remove metastatic liver cancer. Your doctor will likely recommend chemotherapy Chemotherapy Chemotherapy is a medicine that destroys cancer cells. Chemotherapy works by shutting down cell growth. But since all cells in the body grow, chemotherapy medicines also destroy some normal... read more . The chemotherapy is usually given in your veins (IV). Sometimes the doctor will put a long tube up an artery in your leg and into your liver. That tube can deliver chemotherapy right to the tumor.
How can I prevent liver cancer?
You can lower the risk of getting primary liver cancer by:
Getting tested for hepatitis Overview of Hepatitis Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. (See also Overview of Acute Viral Hepatitis and Overview of Chronic Hepatitis.) Hepatitis is common throughout the world. Hepatitis can be Acute (short-lived) read more B and C and taking medicine to treat it
Not drinking too much alcohol
Watching your weight
If you have hepatitis B or C or a lot of scarring in the liver (cirrhosis Cirrhosis of the Liver Your liver is a football-sized organ on the right side of your belly, just below your ribs. It has many important jobs: To make a liquid (bile) that helps your body digest fat To process nutrients... read more ), your doctor may do blood tests and ultrasound to check for liver cancer even if you have no symptoms.