Liver Cancer

Liver cancer is abnormal cell growth on or within the liver. Liver cancer either starts in the liver (called primary liver cancer) or it spreads to the liver (called metastatic liver cancer). Metastatic liver cancer is more common in United States and Western Europe, while primary liver cancer is common in the third world. In the United States, it affects twice as many men as women; the average diagnosis age for liver cancer is 671.

Credit: Learn About Cancer

What are the different types of liver cancer?

There are several types of liver cancer that affect its different cells. Read more about the types of liver cancer at:

What are some symptoms of liver cancer?

Most often, there are no signs of this disease until its later stages. When symptoms do occur they may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Bloating
  • Pain on the right side of the upper abdomen
  • Back and shoulder pains
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feelings of fullness
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)

How is liver cancer diagnosed?

Physical examination is used to evaluate the enlargement and/or tenderness of liver by touch and visual inspection. An enlarged or tender liver is a potential sign of liver cancer.

Imaging tests use x-rays, magnetic fields, or sound waves to create pictures of the inside of the body. Common imaging tests for liver cancer include: ultrasounds, computed tomography (CT) scans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans, angiography, and bone scans.

Blood tests for liver cancer include, Alpha-fetoprotein blood (AFP) tests, liver function tests, blood clotting tests, tests for viral hepatitis, kidney function tests, complete blood counts (CBC), blood chemistry tests.

Biopsy consists of removing a sample of a potential liver tumor so it can be examined under the microscope to look for the presence of cancerous cells.

What are the different stages of liver cancer?

The most widely accepted staging system for liver cancer is the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) TNM system.

The TNM system for liver cancer is based on 3 key pieces of information:

  • T describes the number and size of the primary tumor(s), measured in centimeters (cm), and whether the cancer has grown into nearby blood vessels or organs.
  • N describes the extent of spread to nearby (regional) lymph nodes.
  • M indicates whether the cancer has metastasized (spread) to distant parts of the body. (The most common sites of liver cancer spread are the lungs and bones.)

What are the treatment options for liver cancer?

This liver cancer treatment information does not outline the particular treatment(s) a patient will receive. Rather, it provides general information about the typical treatments used for this type of cancer.

Primary treatment options:

  • Surgery is the removal of the cancerous part of the liver. It may be performed if the cancer has been detected in the early stages and the liver is still healthy. Surgeries for liver cancer include partial hepatectomies and liver transplants.
  • Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to kill cancer cells. These therapies include external beam radiation therapy and brachytherapy.

Secondary treatment options:

  • Tumor ablations are treatments that destroy liver tumor cells without removing them. Ablation procedures are alternatives for patients with a few small tumors that cannot be surgically removed. These procedures include radiofrequency ablation, ethanol ablation, microwave thermotherapy, and cryosurgery.
  • Embolization therapy reduces blood flow to the liver’s cancer cells. These therapies include trans- arterial embolization, chemoembolization, and radioembolization.
  • Ethanol Injections destroys liver tumors using alcohol. Ethanol injection is used much less frequently and usually only applies to hepatocellular cancers that are small (<2 to 3 cm) and cannot be treated using another technique.
  • Targeted therapies are drugs that prevent the growth of cancer cells and protect healthy liver cells from damage Sorafenib (Nexavar) is an oral anti-angiogenesis drug for advanced cases of certain liver cancers

What are the risk factors of liver cancer?

  • Cirrhosis: the scarring of the liver can lead to liver cancer (caused by Chronic alcoholism and hepatitis)
  • Hepatitis: Long-term hepatitis B and C infection are linked to liver cancer.
  • Obesity: may increase the chance of developing liver cancer.
  • Diabetes: increases the risk of developing liver cancer
  • Mold: Exposure to Aflatoxin B1, a product of mold called Aspergillus flavus, found in foods that have been stored in the hot and humid environment.

How is liver cancer prevented?

Many liver cancer cases could possibly be prevented from exposures to know risk factors, such as:

  • Avoiding and treating hepatitis infections
  • Limiting alcohol and tobacco use
  • Getting and staying at a healthy weight
  • Limiting exposure to cancer-causing chemicals
  • Treating disease that increase liver cancer risk 
Mikayla D. Williams , BS student, Nursing , The University of Arizona
Michael Principe, MA, Information Resources and Library Science , The University of Arizona
Works Cited: 
American Cancer Society (2014). Liver Cancer.
Works Consulted: 
American Liver Foundation (2011). Liver Cancer.
American Society of Clinical Oncology (2014). Liver Cancer.