Laurie LaRusso, MS, ELS
The liver is located in the right side of the abdomen. It stores and metabolizes nutrients. It also filters and stores blood. Liver cancer is the growth of cancer cells in the liver.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues. Cancer that has invaded nearby tissues can then spread to other parts of the body.
It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but it is probably a combination of genetics and environment.
Liver cancer is more common in men, and in people over 40 years old. Other factors that may increase your chance of liver cancer include:
Symptoms of liver cancer in the early stages are vague. They often go unnoticed.
Liver cancer can cause the following symptoms:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
Imaging tests evaluate the liver and other structures. These may include:
The physical exam combined with all of your test results, will help to determine the stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, liver cancer is staged from I-IV. Stage I is a very localized cancer, while stage IV indicates a spread to other parts of the body.
Surgery is the only procedure used to try to cure liver cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can reduce symptoms associated with the cancer. They are not considered able to cure liver cancer by themselves.
To help reduce your chance of getting liver cancer:
American Cancer Society
American Liver Foundation
BC Cancer Agency
Canadian Cancer Society
Hepatocellular carcinoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 22, 2014. Accessed August 15, 2014.
Liver cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at:
Accessed August 15, 2014.
National Cancer Institute. National Institutes of Health website. Available at:
Accessed August 15, 2014.
Salem, R, Lewandowski, RJ, Mulcahy, MF, et al. Radioembolization for hepatocellular carcinoma using Yttrium-90 microspheres: a comprehensive report of long-term outcomes.
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12/15/2014 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Yang Y, Zhang D, et al. Increased intake of vegetables, but not fruit, reduces risk for hepatocellulr carcinoma: A meta-analysis. 2014;147(5):1031-1042.
3/11/2015 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Lee YJ, Lee JM, et al. Hepatocellular carcinoma: Diagnostic performance of multidetector CT and MR imaging—a systematic review and meta-analysis. Radiology, 2015 Jan 5 [Epub ahead of print].
Last reviewed August 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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