Liver Cancer


Liver cancer is an abnormal growth of tissue in the liver. Cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow and divide without control or order and cause a tumor. A liver cancer may be primary (cancer starting in the liver itself) or secondary (cancer spreading from another part of the body to the liver). No one knows for sure what causes primary liver cancer. You are at a higher risk for having liver cancer if you have a disease that weakens the liver, such as hepatitis or cirrhosis.

Signs and symptoms of liver cancer include pain on the right upper part of your abdomen (stomach), unplanned weight loss, and yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. Pictures of your abdomen may be taken to help diagnose the cancer. Tests include an abdominal ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan, and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The main treatment for liver cancer is surgery. Anticancer medicines and radiation may also be given.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


  • Treatment for liver cancer may cause unpleasant effects. Sometimes even with treatment, your cancer may spread or return. Chemotherapy can cause nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and diarrhea.

  • You could get an infection or bleed too much if the cancer is removed with surgery. After surgery, you may get a blood clot in your leg or arm. This can cause pain and swelling, and it can stop blood from flowing where it needs to go in your body. The blood clot can break loose and travel to your lungs or brain. A blood clot in your lungs can cause chest pain and trouble breathing. A blood clot in your brain can cause a stroke. These problems can be life-threatening.

  • It is important to find out early if you have liver cancer since it can spread to other parts of the body. The earlier liver cancer is found and treated, the better are its chances of being cured. Ask your caregiver if you are worried or have questions about your disease, care, or treatment.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.

Blood tests:

You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.

Chest x-ray:

This is a picture of your lungs and heart. Caregivers use it to see how your lungs and heart are doing. Caregivers may use the x-ray to look for signs of infection like pneumonia, or to look for collapsed lungs. Chest x-rays may show tumors, broken ribs, or fluid around the heart and lungs.


You may be given the following medicines:

  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.

  • Antinausea medicine: This medicine may be given to calm your stomach and prevent vomiting.

  • Pain medicine: Caregivers may give you medicine to take away or decrease your pain.

    • Do not wait until the pain is severe to ask for your medicine. Tell caregivers if your pain does not decrease. The medicine may not work as well at controlling your pain if you wait too long to take it.

    • Pain medicine can make you dizzy or sleepy. Prevent falls by calling a caregiver when you want to get out of bed or if you need help.


You may have one or more of the following tests to help your caregivers plan your treatment:

  • Abdominal ultrasound: This test is done so caregivers can see the tissues and organs of your abdomen. Gel will be put on your abdomen and a small sensor will be moved across your abdomen. The sensor uses sound waves to send pictures of your abdomen to a TV-like screen.

  • Bone scan: This is a test done to look at the bones in your body. The bone scan shows areas where your bone is diseased or damaged. You will get a radioactive liquid, called a tracer, through a vein in your arm. The tracer collects in your bones. Pictures will then be taken to look for problems. Examples of bone problems include fractures (breaks) and infection.

  • Computerized tomography scan: This is also called a CT scan. A special x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your liver and nearby organs. It may be used to look at your bones, muscles, and blood vessels. You may be given dye before the pictures are taken. The dye is usually given in your IV. The dye may help your caregiver see the pictures better. People who are allergic to iodine or shellfish (lobster, crab, or shrimp) may be allergic to some dyes. Tell your caregiver if you are allergic to shellfish or have other allergies or medical conditions.

  • Endoscopy: This test uses a scope to see the inside of your digestive tract. A scope is a long, bendable tube with a light on the end of it. A camera may be hooked to the scope to take pictures. During an endoscopy, caregivers may find problems with how your digestive tract is working. Samples may be taken from your digestive tract and sent to a lab for tests. Small tumors may be removed, and bleeding may be treated during an endoscopy.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging test: This test is also called an MRI. An MRI allows caregivers to see inside your body. Pictures of your abdomen and other organs will be taken to see if the cancer has spread. You will need to lie still during an MRI. Never enter the MRI room with an oxygen tank, watch or any metal object.

Treatment options:

Liver cancer is treated depending upon the size of the tumor and whether the cancer has spread. You may have one or more of the following treatments:

  • Surgery: Surgery to remove the tumor is the main treatment for liver cancer. A part of your liver may be surgically removed. You may also have a liver transplant if your liver has severe disease. The diseased liver is removed and replaced with a donated, healthy liver.

  • Ablative therapy: Ablation destroys or kills cancer cells. This may be done by injecting alcohol into the cancer cells. High intensity radio waves or laser light may also be used.

  • Chemoembolization: Drugs used for chemotherapy are mixed with another oily chemical. The mixture is then injected into branches of the liver blood vessel, which supplies blood to the cancer.

  • Chemotherapy:

    • This medicine, often called chemo, is used to treat cancer. It works by killing tumor cells. Chemotherapy may also be used to shrink lymph nodes that have cancer in them. Once the tumor is smaller, you may need surgery to cut out the rest of the cancer.

    • Many different chemotherapy medicines are used to treat cancer. You may need blood tests often. These blood tests show how your body is doing and how much chemotherapy is needed. Chemotherapy can have many side effects. Caregivers will watch you closely and will work with you to decrease side effects. Chemotherapy can cure some cancers. Even if the chemotherapy does not cure your cancer, it may help you feel better or live longer.

  • Cryosurgery: During cryosurgery, a chemical called liquid nitrogen is put on the area to be removed. This freezes and kills the tissue. The dead tissue later falls off. Once the tissue thaws, the area may hurt and swell for a short time. You may need cryosurgery more than once.

  • Radiation: Radiation shrinks tumors and kills cancer cells with x-rays or gamma rays. Radiation may be given after surgery to kill cancer cells that were not removed. It may also be given alone or with chemotherapy to treat cancer.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Liver Cancer (Inpatient Care)