Key Points about Liver Cancer (Hepatic Cancer)

  • There are several conditions – such as genetic liver disease, cirrhosis and hepatitis B and C – that can put you at an increased risk for developing liver cancer.
  • Liver cancer is typically diagnosed using a combination of imaging tests, blood tests and biopsy.
  • Treatment for liver cancer may include a surgical procedure to remove the cancerous cells and therapies to destroy the remaining cancerous cells.

Overview 

Liver cancer is a type of cancer that affects your liver. While it is more common for cancer to metastasize (spread) from other areas of the body to the liver, cancer can begin in the liver.

Liver cancer causes 

Liver cancer occurs when some liver cells acquire mutations in their DNA.

Liver cancer risk factors

Some health conditions can increase your risk of developing liver cancer. These include:

  • Certain genetic liver diseases, such as hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease
  • Cirrhosis
  • Diabetes
  • Hepatitis B or hepatitis C
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

Being a heavy drinker or having been exposed to aflatoxins – a mold that grows on improperly stored crops such as grains and nuts – also puts you at an increased risk of developing liver cancer.

Liver cancer symptoms

In many cases, liver cancer doesn’t cause any symptoms. When signs and symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • Chalky, white stools
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes (jaundice)

Liver cancer diagnosis

Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following tests to diagnose leukemia:

  • Blood test. Your specialist may use a blood test to check for abnormal liver function.
  • Imaging tests. Your doctor may order an imaging test – such as an ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI – to check for irregularities. Once diagnosed, your specialist may use additional imaging tests to help stage your liver cancer and determine your optimal course of treatment.
  • Biopsy. Your specialist may remove a small tissue sample of your liver for closer analysis in the lab.

Liver cancer treatment

Treatment for liver cancer may include one or more of the following options:

  • Surgery to remove cancerous cells. If your liver can be spared, your specialist may recommend a surgical procedure to remove only the cancerous cells from your liver.
  • Liver transplant surgery. If your liver cannot be saved, your specialist may recommend surgery to remove your liver and replace it with a donor liver.
  • Localized treatments. Your specialist may recommend a localized treatment – such as heating or freezing cancer cells, injecting alcohol into the tumor or injecting chemotherapy drugs or radiation beads into the liver – to destroy the cancerous cells.
  • Radiation therapy. This treatment uses high-energy beams – such as X-ray or protons – to destroy cancer cells. People typically have to undergo several rounds of radiation therapy treatment for results.
  • Chemotherapy. This treatment involves using medications – either oral (by mouth) or intravenous (by vein) – to destroy cancer cells.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.