Liver cancer includes hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma). Risk factors for HCC include chronic infection with hepatitis B or C and cirrhosis of the liver. Explore the links on this page to learn more about liver cancer treatment, prevention, screening, statistics, research, and clinical trials.

Adult Primary Liver Cancer Treatment

  • Adult primary liver cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the liver.
  • There are two types of adult primary liver cancer.
  • Having hepatitis or cirrhosis can affect the risk of adult primary liver cancer.
  • Signs and symptoms of adult primary liver cancer include a lump or pain on the right side.
  • Tests that examine the liver and the blood are used to detect (find) and diagnose adult primary liver cancer.
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

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 two lobes and fills the upper right side of the abdomen inside the rib cage. Three of the many important functions of the liver are:

  • To filter harmful substances from the blood so they can be passed from the body in stools and urine.
  • To make bile to help digest fat that comes from food.
  • To store glycogen (sugar), which the body uses for energy.

The two types of adult primary liver cancer are:

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma.
  • Cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer). (See the PDQ summary on Bile Duct Cancer (Cholangiocarcinoma) Treatment for more information.)

The most common type of adult primary liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma. This type of liver cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide.

This summary is about the treatment of primary liver cancer (cancer that begins in the liver). Treatment of cancer that begins in other parts of the body and spreads to the liver is not covered in this summary.

Primary liver cancer can occur in both adults and children. However, treatment for children is different than treatment for adults. (See the PDQ summary on Childhood Liver Cancer Treatment for more information.)

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. Talk to your doctor if you think you may be at risk for liver cancer.

Risk factors for liver cancer include the following:

  • Having hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection. Having both hepatitis B and hepatitis C increases the risk even more.
  • Having cirrhosis.
  • Heavy alcohol use. Heavy alcohol use and having hepatitis B infection increases the risk even more.
  • Eating foods tainted with aflatoxin (poison from a fungus that can grow on foods, such as grains and nuts, that have not been stored properly).
  • Having nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a condition in which fat builds up in the liver and may progress to inflammation of the liver and liver cell damage.
  • Using tobacco, such as cigarette smoking.
  • Having certain inherited or rare disorders that damage the liver, including the following:
    • Hereditary hemochromatosis, an inherited disorder in which the body stores more iron than it needs. The extra iron is mostly stored in the liver, heart, pancreas, skin, and joints.
    • Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, an inherited disorder that can cause liver and lung disease.
    • Glycogen storage disease, an inherited disorder in which there are problems with how a form of glucose (sugar) called glycogen is stored and used in the body.
    • Porphyria cutanea tarda, a rare disorder that affects the skin and causes painful blisters on parts of the body that are exposed to the sun, such as the hands, arms, and face. Liver problems can also occur.
    • Wilson disease, a rare inherited disorder in which the body stores more copper than it needs. The extra copper is stored in the liver, brain, eyes, and other organs.

Older age is the main risk factor for most cancers. The chance of getting cancer increases as you get older.

Bile Duct Cancer

There are two types of bile duct cancer:

  • Intrahepatic bile duct cancer: This type of cancer forms in the bile ducts inside the liver. Only a small number of bile duct cancers are intrahepatic. Intrahepatic bile duct cancers are also called intrahepatic cholangiocarcinomas.

Extrahepatic bile duct cancer: The extrahepatic bile duct is made up of the hilum region and the distal region. Cancer can form in either region:

  • Perihi
  • lar bile duct cancer: This type of cancer is found in the hilum region, the area where the right and left bile ducts exit the liver and join to form the common hepatic duct. Perihilar bile duct cancer is also called a Klatskin tumor or perihilar cholangiocarcinoma.
  • Distal extrahepatic bile duct cancer: This type of cancer is found in the distal region. The distal region is made up of the common bile duct which passes through the pancreas and ends in the small intestine. Distal extrahepatic bile duct cancer is also called extrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma.

Childhood Liver Cancer Treatment

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

  • To filter harmful substances from the blood so they can be passed from the body in stools and urine.
  • To make bile to help digest fats from food.
  • To store glycogen (sugar), which the body uses for energy.

Liver cancer is rare in children and adolescents.

Signs and symptoms are more common after the tumor gets big. Other conditions can cause the same signs and symptoms. Check with your child’s doctor if your child has any of the following:

  • A lump in the abdomen that may be painful.
  • Swelling in the abdomen.
  • Weight loss for no known reason.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

Liver (Hepatocellular) Cancer Prevention

Cancer prevention is action taken to lower the chance of getting cancer. By preventing cancer, the number of new cases of cancer in a group or population is lowered. Hopefully, this will lower the number of deaths caused by cancer.

To prevent new cancers from starting, scientists look at risk factors and protective factors. Anything that increases your chance of developing cancer is called a cancer risk factor; anything that decreases your chance of developing cancer is called a cancer protective factor.

Some risk factors for cancer can be avoided, but many cannot. For example, both smoking and inheriting certain genes are risk factors for some types of cancer, but only smoking can be avoided. Regular exercise and a healthy diet may be protective factors for some types of cancer. Avoiding risk factors and increasing protective factors may lower your risk, but it does not mean that you will not get cancer.

Different ways to prevent cancer are being studied, including:

  • Changing lifestyle or eating habits.
  • Avoiding things known to cause cancer.
  • Taking medicines to treat a precancerous condition or to keep cancer from starting.

Liver (Hepatocellular) Cancer Screening

Screening is looking for cancer before a person has any symptoms. This can help find cancer at an early stage. When abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat. By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread.

Scientists are trying to better understand which people are more likely to get certain types of cancer. They also study the things we do and the things around us to see if they cause cancer. This information helps doctors recommend who should be screened for cancer, which screening tests should be used, and how often the tests should be done.

It is important to remember that your doctor does not necessarily think you have cancer if he or she suggests a screening test. Screening tests are given when you have no cancer symptoms.

If a screening test result is abnormal, you may need to have more tests done to find out if you have cancer. These are called diagnostic tests.

What is Cancer?

  • Cancer can start almost anywhere in the human body, which is made up of trillions of cells. Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place.

  • Cancer prevention is action taken to lower the risk of getting cancer. This can include maintaining a healthy lifestyle, avoiding exposure to known cancer-causing substances, and taking medicines or vaccines that can prevent cancer from developing.

  • Cancer can cause many different symptoms. Most often these symptoms are not caused by cancer, but by benign tumors or other problems. If you have symptoms that last for a couple of weeks, your doctor will do a physical exam and order tests or other procedures to find out what is causing your symptoms.