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Liver Cancer


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Reviewed/Revised Apr 2023
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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.

The Liver

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.

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

View of the Liver and Gallbladder

What causes liver cancer?

What are the symptoms of liver cancer?

At first, liver cancer may cause no symptoms, but later you can:

  • Lose weight

  • 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

  • Swollen belly

  • Nausea and vomiting

Many other health problems have the same kinds of symptoms.

How can doctors tell if I have liver cancer?

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:

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 drug that destroys cancer cells. Chemotherapy works by shutting down cell growth. But since all cells in the body grow, chemotherapy drugs also destroy some normal cells and... 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:

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 Cirrhosis of the Liver ), your doctor may do blood tests and ultrasound to check for liver cancer even if you have no symptoms.

Where can I find more information about liver cancer?

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