Liver Cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute, 15,000 men and 6,000 women are diagnosed each year with primary liver cancer (cancer that begins in the liver). Most are over 64 years old. Most primary liver cancers begin in liver cells (hepatocytes). This type of cancer is called hepatocellular carcinoma or malignant hepatoma.

Normal cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When normal cells grow old or get damaged, they die, and new cells take their place. Sometimes, this process goes wrong. New cells form when the body doesn’t need them, and old or damaged cells don’t die as they should. The buildup of extra cells often forms a mass of tissue called a growth, nodule, or tumor.

Growths in the liver can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).


  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Jaundice
  • Palpable mass
  • Weight Loss

Risk Factors

Risk factors for developing liver cancer include:

  • Infection with hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus
  • Cirrhosis due to heavy alcohol consumption, hemochromatosis and fatty liver associated with obesity and diabetes
  • Hemachromatosis or other iron storage disease
  • Aflatoxin (a harmful substance made by certain types of mold)

When to See a Doctor

If you have symptoms that concern you and are consistent with liver cancer, see a doctor for a thorough exam and consultation. Patients at a higher risk for developing liver cancer due to pre-existing conditions should be monitored carefully.

Treatment Options

Treatment options for individuals with liver cancer vary and may include the following:

  • Surgery
  • Targeted therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Any combination of the above treatments

Diagnostic Testing

The foremost diagnostic test for any condition is a thorough exam and consultation with a physician, including a review of your individual and family history. In addition, your physician may recommend any of the following tests or procedures, which may provide further diagnostic value:

  • Blood Test
  • Imaging tests (which may include one or more of the following: ultrasound, x-ray, CT scan, MRI scan)
  • Liver Biopsy


Liver cancer can be prevented by treating hepatitis B and C and hemochromatosis as well as controlling diabetes and obesity. In general, primary liver cancer is associated with the development of cirrhosis, therefore, preventing cirrhosis is thought to prevent liver cancer.

Learn More

Learn more about liver cancer with resources from the National Cancer Institute

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