Navigate Up

Women's Center - A-Z Index

#
Y

Print This Page

Liver cancer - Hepatocellular carcinoma

Hepatocellular carcinoma is cancer that starts in the liver.

Alternative Names

Primary liver cell carcinoma; Tumor - liver; Cancer - liver; Hepatoma

Causes

Hepatocellular carcinoma accounts for most liver cancers. This type of cancer occurs more often in men than women. It is usually seen in people age 50 or older.

Hepatocellular carcinoma is not the same as metastatic liver cancer , which starts in another organ (such as the breast or colon) and spreads to the liver.

In most cases, the cause of liver cancer is scarring of the liver (cirrhosis ). Cirrhosis may be caused by:

Patients with hepatitis B or C are at high risk of liver cancer, even if they do not develop cirrhosis.

Symptoms

  • Abdominal pain or tenderness, especially in the upper-right part
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Enlarged abdomen
  • Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)

Exams and Tests

The doctor will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. The physical exam may show an enlarged, tender liver.

If the doctor suspects liver cancer, tests that may be ordered include:

Some high-risk patients may get regular blood tests and ultrasounds to see whether tumors are developing.

Treatment

Treatment depends on how advanced the cancer is.

Surgery may be done if the tumor has not spread. Before surgery, the tumor may be treated with chemotherapy  to reduce its size. This is done by delivering the medicine straight into the liver with a tube (catheter).

Radiation treatments in the area of the cancer may also be helpful. But many patients have liver cirrhosis or other liver diseases that make these treatments more difficult.

Ablation is another method that may be used. (Ablate means to destroy.) Types of ablation include using:

  • Radio waves or microwaves
  • Ethanol (an alcohol) or acetic acid (vinegar)
  • Extreme cold (cryoablation)

A liver transplant may be recommended for certain persons who have both cancer and cirrhosis.

Support Groups

You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group . Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.

Outlook (Prognosis)

If the cancer cannot be completely removed, the disease is usually fatal within 3 to 6 months. But survival can vary depending on how advanced the cancer is when diagnosed and how successful treatment is.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you develop ongoing abdominal pain, especially if you have a history of any liver disease .

Prevention

  • Preventing and treating viral hepatitis may help reduce your risk. Childhood vaccination against hepatitis B may reduce the risk of liver cancer in the future.
  • Do not drink excessive amounts of alcohol.
  • Persons with certain types of hemochromatosis may need to be screened for liver cancer.
  • Persons who have hepatitis B or C or cirrhosis may be recommended for liver cancer screening.

References

National Cancer Institute: PDQ Adult Primary Liver Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified 09/20/2013. Accessed September 24, 2013.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Hepatobiliary Cancers. Version 2.2013. Accessed September 24, 2013.

Updated: 9/20/2013

Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com