What is Liver Cancer?

Liver cancer is cancer that occurs in the liver. The liver is the largest glandular organ in the body and performs various critical functions to keep the body free of toxins and harmful substances. When cancer develops in the liver, it destroys liver cells and interferes with the ability of the liver to function normally.

Liver cancer is generally classified as primary or secondary. Primary liver cancer begins in the cells of the liver. Secondary liver cancer develops when cancer cells from another organ spread to the liver.

What are the causes of Liver Cancer?

Liver cancer happens when liver cells develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. A cell's DNA is the material that provides instructions for every chemical process in your body. DNA mutations cause changes in these instructions. One result is that cells may begin to grow out of control and eventually form a tumor — a mass of cancerous cells.

Sometimes the cause of liver cancer is known, such as with chronic hepatitis infections. But sometimes liver cancer happens in people with no underlying diseases and it's not clear what causes it.

Risk factors

Factors that increase the risk of primary liver cancer include:

  1. Chronic infection with HBV or HCV. Chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV) increases your risk of liver cancer.
  2. Cirrhosis. This progressive and irreversible condition causes scar tissue to form in your liver and increases your chances of developing liver cancer.
  3. Certain inherited liver diseases. Liver diseases that can increase the risk of liver cancer include hemochromatosis and Wilson's disease.
  4. Diabetes. People with this blood sugar disorder have a greater risk of liver cancer than those who don't have diabetes.
  5. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. An accumulation of fat in the liver increases the risk of liver cancer.
  6. Exposure to aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are poisons produced by molds that grow on crops that are stored poorly. Crops, such as grains and nuts, can become contaminated with aflatoxins, which can end up in foods made of these products.
  7. Excessive alcohol consumption. Consuming more than a moderate amount of alcohol daily over many years can lead to irreversible liver damage and increase your risk of liver cancer.

What are the symptoms of Liver Cancer?

Most people don't have signs and symptoms in the early stages of primary liver cancer. When signs and symptoms do appear, they may include:

  1. Losing weight without trying
  2. Loss of appetite
  3. Upper abdominal pain
  4. Nausea and vomiting
  5. General weakness and fatigue
  6. Abdominal swelling
  7. Yellow discoloration of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
  8. White, chalky stools

What are the treatment options for Liver?

Liver cancer may be treated using one or more methods: surgery, loco-regional therapy, different types of drug therapy, and even liver transplantation.

Surgical treatments

  1. Partial hepatectomy: Removing part of the liver, ranging from a smaller wedge to an entire lobe
  2. Total hepatectomy and liver transplant: Removing the whole liver and replacing it with one from an organ donor.


  1. Ablation therapy: Destroying tumors in the liver without taking them out. There are several ways to do this, like cryoablation, microwave ablation, radiofrequency ablation and ethanol ablation.
  2. Chemotherapy: Using drugs to kill cancer cells or stop them from reproducing. Chemotherapy may be systemic (pills or injections that travel through the entire body).
  3. Targeted therapy: Using drugs that zero in on the cancer genes or tissue. Targeted therapy is different than chemotherapy.
  4. Immunotherapy: Using drugs that direct the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells. It, too, is different than chemotherapy.
  5. Loco-regional therapy: Injecting beads that give off radiation into the blood vessel that is feeding the tumor (radioembolization). Another version of this type of therapy is called chemoembolization of the hepatic artery. The chemotherapy drug is combined with the beads to block the artery.