The American Cancer Society estimates that around 42,000 new cases of primary liver cancer and intrahepatic bile duct cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year. Unfortunately, liver cancer incidence has more than tripled since 1980. However, rates in young adults have recently begun to decline. Liver cancer death rates have increased by almost 3% per year since 2000. Liver cancer is seen more often in men than in women.
Several types of cancer can form in the liver. The most common type of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma, which begins in the main type of liver cell (hepatocyte). Other types of liver cancer, such as intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma and hepatoblastoma, are much less common.
Not all cancers that affect the liver are considered liver cancer. Cancer that begins in another area of the body — such as the colon, lung or breast — and then spreads to the liver is called metastatic cancer rather than liver cancer. And this type of cancer is named after the organ in which it began — such as metastatic colon cancer to describe cancer that begins in the colon and spreads to the liver. Cancer that spreads to the liver is more common than cancer that begins in the liver cells.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of primary liver cancer. Hepatocellular carcinoma occurs most often in people with chronic liver diseases, such as cirrhosis caused by hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection.
Tests and procedures used to diagnose liver cancer include:
Once liver cancer is diagnosed, your doctor will work to determine the extent (stage) of the cancer. Staging tests help determine the size and location of cancer and whether it has spread. Imaging tests used to stage liver cancer include CTs, MRIs and bone scans. There are different methods of staging liver cancer. One method uses Roman numerals I through IV, and another uses letters A through D. Your doctor uses your cancer’s stage to determine your treatment options and your prognosis. Stage IV and stage D indicate the most advanced liver cancer with the worst prognosis.
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:
Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience any signs or symptoms that worry you.
Treatments for primary liver cancer depend on the extent (stage) of the disease as well as your age, overall health and personal preferences.
Surgery: Operations used to treat liver cancer include:
Radiation therapy: This treatment uses high-powered energy from sources such as X-rays and protons to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Doctors carefully direct the energy to the liver, while sparing the surrounding healthy tissue. During external beam radiation therapy treatment, you lie on a table and a machine directs the energy beams at a precise point on your body. A specialized type of radiation therapy, called stereotactic radiosurgery, involves focusing many beams of radiation simultaneously at one point in your body.
Palliative Care: Palliative care is specialized medical care that focuses on providing relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness. Palliative care specialists work with you, your family and your other doctors to provide an extra layer of support that complements your ongoing care. Palliative care can be used while undergoing other aggressive treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. When palliative care is used along with all of the other appropriate treatments, people with cancer may feel better and live longer. Palliative care is provided by our skilled team of doctors, nurses and specially trained professionals, aimed at improving the quality of life for people with cancer and their families. This form of care is offered alongside curative or other treatments you may be receiving. Learn more about San Cristóbal Palliative Care.
San Cristobal Cancer Institute offers a wide array of options to help our patients feel calm and supported during the process of screening, diagnosis and treatment, as well as getting back to life after cancer. Browse our alternatives for patients – including financial aid for those eligible – in our Patient Resources section.
If you’d like to learn more about Liver Cancer through our San Cristóbal Education Resources, attend our events or learn about our Cancer Center, please contact us.
Education is one of our strongest tools at San Cristóbal Cancer Institute, empowering patients and their families with complete and updated information about more than a dozen types of cancer and providing first-hand knowledge through our dedicated team of cancer experts. If you’d like to know more, please get in touch with us. We look forward to offering you and your family powerful cancer awareness and the most comprehensive care.