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Liver Cancer


Disease: Liver Cancer Liver Cancer
Category: Liver Diseases
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Disease Definition:

The type of cancer that begins in the cells of the liver is called liver cancer. The liver is a football-sized organ that sits in the upper right portion of the abdomen, beneath the diaphragm and above the stomach

One of the most common forms of cancer in the world is liver cancer.

Sometimes, cancer that occurs in the liver begins in another area of the body, such as the lung, breast or colon; this is called metastatic cancer. This type of cancer is named after the organ in which it began, for instance, cancer that began in the colon and then spread to the liver is called metastatic colon cancer.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


In the early stages of primary liver cancer, most people don't have any sign or symptoms. However, when they do appear, they may include:


  • General weakness and fatigue
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Loss of appetite
  • An enlarged liver
  • Nausea and vomiting

In case a person experiences any worrisome signs or symptoms, they should make an appointment to see a doctor.


The exact cause of most cases of liver cancer is not clear. However, in some cases, chronic infection with certain hepatitis viruses could cause liver cancer.

When liver cells develop changes in their DNA, which is the material that provides instructions for every chemical process in the body, liver cancer occurs. DNA mutations could cause changes in these instructions. The cells could grow out of control as a result to this, and eventually form a tumor.

Depending on the cells that become cancerous, primary liver cancer that begins in the cells of the liver, is divided into different types:

This rare type of liver cancer affects children younger than 4 years of age. Most children with hepatoblastoma can be successfully treated.

HCC (hepatocellular carcinoma):
This type starts in the hepatocytes, the main type of liver cell. In both children and adults, this is the most common form of primary liver cancer.

Angiosarcoma or hemangiosarcoma:
These cancers begin in the blood vessels of the liver and grow very quickly, but they are rare.

Also called bile duct cancer, this type of cancer begins in the small tube-like bile ducts within the liver.

Being a man, having a chronic infection with the hepatitis C virus or the hepatitis B virus, diabetes or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease are some of the factors that increase people’s risk of developing primary liver cancer in addition to:

Liver cancer usually affects older adults in North America, Europe and Australia, and it affects younger people between the ages of 20 and 50 in the developing countries of Asia and Africa.

Exposure to aflatoxins:
Someone’s risk of liver cancer could be greatly increased if they consume foods contaminated with fungi that produce aflatoxins. Foods that could become contaminated with aflatoxins include crops such as corn and peanuts.

Certain inherited liver diseases:
Wilson's disease, hemochromatosis and autoimmune hepatitis are some of the liver diseases that could increase a person’s risk of liver cancer.

Scar tissue could form in a person’s liver and their chances of developing liver cancer could increase due to cirrhosis, which is a progressive and irreversible condition.

Excessive alcohol consumption:
Irreversible liver damage could be caused by consuming more than a moderate amount of alcohol, which could increase the risk of liver cancer.

Having an unhealthy body mass index increases the risk of liver cancer.





The extent (stage) of the disease, the patient’s age, overall health and their personal preferences are the things that treatments for primary liver cancer will depend on.

Completely eliminating the cancer is the goal of any treatment. However, if this is not possible, treatment will focus on preventing the tumor from growing or spreading. In some cases, only comfort care will be appropriate, in which case the focus will be on helping relieve the patient’s symptoms and make them as comfortable as possible, instead of removing or slowing the disease.

Some of the treatment options for liver cancer may be:

Surgery to remove a portion of the liver:
In case the tumor is small and the function of the liver is good, the patient may be recommended partial hepatectomy, in which the liver cancer will be removed along with a small portion of healthy tissue that surrounds it.

Liver transplant surgery:
In case someone’s liver cancer is in its early stage and they also have cirrhosis, they may be recommended this surgery. The diseased liver will be removed during liver transplant surgery and replaced with a healthy liver from a donor.

Heating cancer cells:
Radiofrequency ablation is a method in which electric current is used to heat and destroy cancer cells. Several thin needles will be inserted into small incisions in the patient’s abdomen, while using an ultrasound or CT scan as a guide. The needles will be heated with an electric current when they reach the tumor, which will destroy the cancer cells.

Freezing cancer cells:
Cryoablation is a method in which extreme cold is used to destroy cancer cells. An instrument called a cryoprobe that contains liquid nitrogen will be placed directly onto liver tumors. To guide the cryoprobe and monitor the freezing of the cells, ultrasound images will be used. This method could be used along with surgery, chemotherapy or other standard treatments, or it could be the only treatment for liver cancer.

Radiation therapy:
To destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors, high-powered energy beams will be used in this method. During this treatment, a machine directs the energy beams at a precise point on the body while the patient lies on a table. Fatigue, nausea and vomiting could be some of the side effects of radiation therapy.

Injecting chemotherapy drugs into the liver:
One type of chemotherapy treatment is called chemoembolization, in which strong anti-cancer drugs are supplied directly to the liver. The hepatic artery, which is the artery from which liver cancers derive their blood supply, is blocked during this procedure, and the chemotherapy drugs are injected between the liver and the blockage.

Targeted drug therapy:
There are drugs that are designed to interfere with the ability of a tumor to generate new blood vessels; one example is sorafenib, which has been shown to slow or even stop advanced liver cancer from progressing for a few months longer than with no treatment. However, to understand exactly how this and other targeted therapies could be used to control advanced liver cancer, more studies are needed.

Injecting alcohol into the tumor:
Alcohol dries out the cells of the tumor and causes them to die. In this method, either through the skin or during an operation, pure alcohol will be injected directly into the tumor.


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