Liver Cancer

Liver Cancer

  • Adult primary liver cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the liver.

    The liver is one of the largest organs in the body. It has four lobes and fills the upper right side of the abdomen inside the rib cage. The liver has many important functions,

  • including:

    > Filtering harmful substances from the blood so they can be passed from the body in stools and urine.

    > Making bile to help digest fats from food.

    > Storing glycogen (sugar), which the body uses for energy.

Signs and symptoms

  • These symptoms may be caused by swelling of the liver. These and other symptoms may be caused by adult primary liver cancer or by other conditions.

    A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:

    > A hard lump on the right side just below the rib cage.

    > Discomfort in the upper abdomen on the right side.

    > Pain around the right shoulder blade.

    > Unexplained weight loss.

    > Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).

    > Unusual tiredness.

    > Nausea.

    > Loss of appetite.


  • Tests that examine the liver and the blood are used to detect (find) and diagnose adult primary liver cancer.
  • The following tests and procedures may be used:

    > Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.

    > Serum tumor marker test: A procedure in which a sample of blood is examined to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs, tissues, or tumor cells in the body. Certain substances are linked to specific types of cancer when found in increased levels in the blood. These are called tumor markers. An increased level of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) in the blood may be a sign of liver cancer. Other cancers and certain noncancerous conditions, including cirrhosis and hepatitis, may also increase AFP levels.


  • Stage I

    In stage I, there is one tumor and it has not spread to nearby blood vessels.

  • Stage II

    In stage II, one of the following is found:

    > one tumor that has spread to nearby blood vessels; or

    > more than one tumor, none of which is larger than 5 centimeters.
  • Stage III

    Stage III is divided into Stage IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC.

    In stage IIIA, one of the following is found:

    > more than one tumor larger than 5 centimeters; or

    > one tumor that has spread to a major branch of blood vessels near the liver.

    0) In stage IIIB, there are one or more tumors of any size that have either:

    > spread to nearby organs other than the gallbladder; or

    > broken through the lining of the peritoneal cavity.

    0) In stage IIIC, the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.

  • Stage IV

    In stage IV, cancer has spread beyond the liver to other places in the body, such as the bones or lungs. The tumors may be of any size and may also have spread to nearby blood vessels and/or lymph nodes.

  • Recurrent Adult Primary Liver Cancer

    Recurrent adult primary liver cancer is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The cancer may come back in the liver or in other parts of the body.


  • Surgery
    The following types of surgery may be used to treat liver cancer:

    > Cryosurgery: A treatment that uses an instrument to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue, such as carcinoma in situ. This type of treatment is also called cryotherapy. The doctor may use ultrasound to guide the instrument.

    > Partial hepatectomy: Removal of the part of the liver where cancer is found. The part removed may be a wedge of tissue, an entire lobe, or a larger portion of the liver, along with some of the healthy tissue around it. The remaining liver tissue takes over the functions of the liver.

    > Total hepatectomy and liver transplant: Removal of the entire liver and replacement with a healthy donated liver. A liver transplant may be done when the disease is in the liver only and a donated liver can be found. If the patient has to wait for a donated liver, other treatment is given as needed.

    > Radiofrequency ablation: The use of a special probe with tiny electrodes that kill cancer cells. Sometimes the probe is inserted directly through the skin and only local anesthesia is needed. In other cases, the probe is inserted through an incision in the abdomen. This is done in the hospital with general anesthesia.

  • Radiation therapy
    Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
  • Chemotherapy
    Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the spinal column, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). Bladder cancer may be treated with intravesical (into the bladder through a tube inserted into the urethra) chemotherapy. The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
  • Biologic therapy
    Biologic therapy is a treatment that uses the patient’s immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body’s natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy or immunotherapy.