Parkview Health Logo

Liver Cancer

What is liver cancer?

The liver is the largest internal organ and performs many important functions. Some of the functions include filtering and breaking down toxic waste in the body to eliminate it from the body and producing clotting factors to keep us from bleeding when injured or cut. 

Primary liver cancer originating in the liver accounts for about 2 percent of cancers in the United States, but up to half of all cancers in some undeveloped countries.  Most of the time, when cancer is found in the liver, it did not start there but has spread (metastasized) from somewhere else in the body.  Because this cancer has spread from its original (primary) site, it is a secondary liver cancer. These tumors are named and treated based on their primary site (where they started).  For example, cancer that starts in the breast and spreads to the liver is called breast cancer with spread to the liver – not liver cancer. It then would be treated as breast cancer.

What causes primary liver cancer?

Risk factors for developing primary liver cancer include:

  • Infection with hepatitis B (HBV) or hepatitis C (HCV) virus.  Around the world, infection with HBV or HCV is the main cause of liver cancer.
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Aflatoxin : a harmful substance made by certain types of mold that can form on peanuts, corn and other nuts and grains.
  • Hemochromatosis (iron storage disease)
  • Cirrhosis: Develops when liver cells are damaged and replaced by scar tissue. Almost all cases of liver cancer in the United States occur in people who first had cirrhosis, usually resulting from hepatitis infection, or heavy alcohol use.
  • Obesity and diabetes

What are the signs and symptoms of primary liver cancer?

Primary liver cancer in its early stages does not often cause symptoms, but when it grows larger some of the common symptoms include:

  • Pain in the right upper abdomen
  • A lump or feeling of heaviness in the upper abdomen
  • Bloating
  • Loss of appetite or feeling of fullness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Weakness or feeling very tired
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Yellow skin and eyes, light colored stools, dark urine from jaundice
  • Fever

How is primary liver cancer treated?

Treatment options for primary liver cancer include:

  • Surgery:  partial or total hepatectomy
  • Liver Transplant 
  • Radiation Therapy           
  • Cyberknife Radiosurgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted liver therapies such as y-90, TACE or ablation
  • Palliative care