What Is Liver Cancer?
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Liver Cancer - Causes, Symptoms, Stages, Risk Factor, Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Published on Sep 06, 2021 and last reviewed on Mar 15, 2023   -  5 min read


Most liver cancers result from the spread of other cancers to the liver rather than from liver cancer itself. Read the article to learn more about liver cancer.

Liver Cancer -  Causes, Symptoms, Stages, Risk Factor, Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment


The liver, the largest gland present in the human body, weighs about 1500 mg. It is located in the upper right abdomen region and extends to the upper left abdomen under the diaphragm. The liver has two lobes, the right lobe, and the left lobe. The blood supply to the liver comes from the hepatic artery and the portal vein. This blood flows out of the liver using the hepatic vein into the portal vein. The microscopic structures present in the liver are hepatocytes with mesenchymal cells and bile duct cells.

What Are the Functions of the Liver?

  • It helps in bile production and excretion, which helps carry away waste from the body and fat breakdown in the small intestine during digestion.

  • Excretion of bilirubin, hormones, cholesterol, and drugs.

  • Helps in the metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.

  • Enzyme activation.

  • Storage of vitamins, glycogen, and minerals.

  • Synthesis of plasma proteins, such as clotting factors and albumin.

  • It helps in blood detoxification and purification.

What Is Liver Cancer?

Cancer is a condition where the body's cells multiply uncontrollably. Cancer that begins in the liver is called liver cancer. It is also called hepatic cancer or hepatocellular carcinoma. Although some cancers begin outside the liver and spread to the organ, physicians only refer to cancer that begins in the liver as "liver cancer."

What Are the Causes of Liver Cancer?

It is most commonly seen in people with chronic liver diseases like cirrhosis caused by hepatitis C or hepatitis B infections. Other causes are:

What Are the Warning Signs and Symptoms of Liver Cancer?

The symptoms are usually uncommon in the early stages of liver cancer. Symptoms during the later stages of the disease include,

  • Loss of weight without trying.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Upper abdominal pain.

  • Nausea and vomiting.

  • General weakness and fatigue.

  • Abdominal swelling.

  • Yellow discoloration in the whites of eyes and skin (jaundice).

  • White, chalky stools.

  • Dark-colored urine.

  • Chronic fatigue.

  • Swelling in the legs and ankles.

  • Itchy skin.

  • Bloating sensation.

Who All Are at Risk for Liver Cancer?

  • Men are more likely to develop liver cancer than women.

  • People who have chronic infections with hepatitis B and C viruses.

  • People with liver cirrhosis.

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, most commonly seen in obese people.

  • In people with hepatic hemochromatosis, too much iron is absorbed from the food. When more iron settles in the liver, it will lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

  • People who consume a high amount of alcohol.

  • People who are obese.

  • People with type 2 diabetes mellitus.

What Are the Stages of Liver Cancer?

  1. Stage 1 Liver Cancer - A single mass in the liver that does not spread to any blood vessels.

  2. Stage 2 Liver Cancer - A single mass in the liver has invaded the blood vessels or multiple tumors that are less than 5 centimeters in size.
  3. Stage 3 Liver Cancer - It is divided into:

  • Stage 3 A - Multiple tumors in the liver at least larger than 5 centimeters. It has not spread to any lymph nodes or outside the liver.

  • Stage 3 B - Cancer has spread to one of the main blood vessels, and it has not spread to any lymph node or organ.

  • Stage 3 C - Cancer has spread to the nearby organ or the outer tissues, but it has not spread to the lymph nodes or distant organs.

4. Stage 4 Liver Cancer - They are further divided into:

  • Stage 4 A - Cancer has spread to the lymph nodes near the liver but has not spread to distant organs.

  • Stage 4 B - Cancer has spread to distant organs like bones, lungs, or the brain. In this, the tumor may invade the nearby lymph nodes or blood vessels.

What Are the Diagnostic Methods for Liver Cancer?

  • The doctor can perform blood tests like liver function tests.

  • The doctor can perform imaging tests like ultrasound, CT (computed tomography), and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

  • Liver biopsy, where a needle is passed through the skin into the liver, and the tissue is collected. These liver tissues are examined under the microscope to check for cancer cells. After a liver biopsy, there is a risk of bruising, bleeding, and infection.

What Are the Differential Diagnosis of Liver Cancer?

  • Dysplastic nodules in cirrhosis.

  • Fibrous nodular hyperplasia.

  • Metastatic disease.

How to Treat a Patient With Liver Cancer?

Liver transplantation is the most effective treatment for patients with liver cancer. The common types of treatment done for liver cancer are surgery, radiofrequency ablation, radiation therapy, and percutaneous ethanol injection.

1. Surgery

Two types of surgery are:

  • Hepatectomy - It is done to remove the tumor, which can be partial or total.

  • Liver transplantation.

2. Radiofrequency Ablation - Thisis one of the most common ablation methods used to treat small tumors. Here a thin needle is passed into the tumor through the skin, and high-frequency radio waves are passed through it, which heats the tumor and destroys the cancer cells.

3. Percutaneous Ethanol Injection - This is the first ablative technique used to treat liver cancer. The alcohol is directly injected into the tumor to destroy the cancer cells, which leads to the complete ablation of about 70 percent of the cancer cells. This technique is used when the tumor size is less than or equal to 3 centimeters.

4. Radiation Therapy - It is highly effective in controlling early-stage cancer. Radiation segmentectomy is a minimally invasive procedure used in people with early-stage cancer who cannot tolerate the standard therapy.

5. Targeted Drug Therapy - Targeted therapy is different from chemotherapy. Here the drugs focus only on the cancer cells exempting the healthy cells.

6. Immunotherapy - In this technique, drugs improve the immune system to kill cancer cells.

7. Palliative Care - This method helps relieve pain and other symptoms from a severe illness. Palliative care is given when the patient is undergoing aggressive treatments like radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or surgery.

8. Chemotherapy - The doctor uses drugs to destroy the cancer cells and stop them from replicating further. Chemotherapy can be done either through pills or injections given systemically to travel throughout the body.

How to Prevent Liver Cancer?

While no one can prevent liver cancer, you can potentially reduce your risk by following healthy lifestyle measures like regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, taking limited amounts of alcohol, and controlling weight. It is also essential to avoid infection with hepatitis B and C viruses.


To sum up, liver cancer is a life-threatening condition. However, this disease can be prevented by avoiding the risk factors and receiving early diagnosis and treatment. The chances of developing liver cancer may be lowered by preventing and treating viral hepatitis. Hepatitis B vaccination in children may lower the chances of the disease. Therefore, it is advised not to ignore any symptoms related to liver problems and be up to date with the vaccinations.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Is the First or Early Stage of Liver Cancer?

The two stages of stage 1 liver cancer are stage 1A and stage 1B. Stage 1A indicates a single, 2 cm- or less-sized tumor in the liver that has not grown into the blood vessels. A single tumor larger than 2 centimeters and has not grown into the blood vessels is considered in Stage 1B.


How to Prevent Liver Cancer?

Many cases could be avoided by reducing exposure to known risk factors for liver cancer.
- Hepatitis B and C infections must be avoided and treated.
- Reduce the use of tobacco and alcohol.
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
- Limit exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.
- Treat conditions that raise the risk of liver cancer.


How to Diagnose a Liver Disease?

Liver function tests involve a group of blood tests that can be used to diagnose liver disease. Additional blood tests can be performed to check for specific genetic conditions or liver problems. Liver damage can be seen on a CT (computed tomography) scan, ultrasound, and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).


What Are the Preliminary Tests for the Liver?

The following are some standard liver function tests -
- Alkaline phosphatase.
- Alanine transaminase.
- Aspartate transaminase.
- Albumin, bilirubin, and total protein.
- Gamma glutamyltransferase.
- L-lactate dehydrogenase.
- Prothrombin time.


What Foods Are Harmful to the Liver?

Avoid the following foods as much as possible for liver health -
- Alcohol consumption. It may exacerbate liver diseases.
- Avoid sugary beverages and foods like fruit juices, cookies, soda, and candy.
- Stay away from fried foods as they have a lot of calories and fat.
- Avoid added salt.
- Pasta, rice, and white bread.
- Red meat.


Which Stage of Liver Cancer Is Curable?

Surgery (partial hepatectomy) may aid in cancer cure if the malignancy is in its early stages (stages 0 and 1) and the remaining portion of the liver is healthy. Only a small percentage of liver cancer patients fall into this category. The size of the tumors and whether or not nearby blood vessels are affected are essential factors that may affect the outcome. After surgery, tumors that are larger or enter blood vessels are more likely to return to the liver or spread elsewhere. The patient's overall health and liver function are also important factors. A liver transplant may be an additional option for some people with early-stage liver cancer.


Is It Possible to Fully Cure Liver Cancer?

A complete cure may be possible if the liver cancer is at stage one at the time of diagnosis. The most common methods for achieving this are: removing the affected portion of the liver or resection, undergoing a liver transplant, where the liver is removed and replaced with a healthy one.


How Is the Last Stage of Liver Cancer Treated?

The liver tumor(s) may require either embolization or ablation as a treatment option. Other options include targeted therapy, immunotherapy, systemic or hepatic artery infusion chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.


Does Liver Cancer Cause Death?

The stage of the disease is one of many factors that affect survival rates. The five-year survival rate is 35 percent for the 43 percent of people who are diagnosed with liver cancer at an early stage. The five-year survival rate is 12 percent if cancer has spread to the surrounding organs, tissues, or lymph nodes.


Is It Possible to Live Without a Liver?

The liver is a crucial organ that is necessary for life to continue. Vitamins and energy are stored, nutrients are broken down, and toxins are eliminated. Without a functioning liver, it is impossible to live. This indicates that liver failure necessitates a transplant, even though the liver disease can be lived with.


Is Liver Cancer Hereditary?

Although there is no strong genetic component to liver cancer, a family history of disease risk factors can increase the risk of developing the disease. Infections with hepatitis B and hepatitis C, as well as excessive alcohol consumption, are all strong risk factors for liver cancer.


Is Apple Good for Liver Health?

Apples, a fruit rich in fiber, have been shown in studies to be beneficial to obese people with fatty liver disease. Make sure that the skin stays on, as the majority of the fiber is found there.


What Happens in Case of Liver Failure?

Numerous organs in the body can be affected by liver failure. Infection, electrolyte deficiency, and bleeding are all possible complications of acute liver failure. Acute and chronic liver failure both have the potential to end in death if not treated.


Is Liver Cancer a Common Condition?

Although liver cancer cases are steadily rising, liver cancer is not common. Healthcare providers gauge that around one percent of all people in the United States will be determined to have a type of malignant liver growth during their lifetime.

Last reviewed at:
15 Mar 2023  -  5 min read




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