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Liver Cancer

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 6, 2023.

What do I need to know about liver cancer?

Liver cancer can prevent your liver from working correctly and removing harmful material from your blood. The 2 most common types of liver cancer are hepatocellular carcinoma and cholangiocarcinoma.

Abdominal Organs

What increases my risk for liver cancer?

  • Cirrhosis (liver disease) from alcohol abuse, or from conditions such as hematochromatosis
  • Long-term infection with hepatitis B or C virus
  • Cigarette smoking or alcohol abuse
  • Exposure to toxic substances
  • Long-term inflammation caused by gallstones in your liver or bile duct
  • Medical conditions such as nonalcoholic fatty liver or obesity
  • A family history of liver cancer

What are the signs and symptoms of liver cancer?

In the early stages, you may not have symptoms. In the later stages, you may have any of the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Weight loss without trying
  • Nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes

How is liver cancer diagnosed?

  • Blood tests can show signs of liver cancer and check the function of your liver.
  • An ultrasound, CT, or MRI may show the location and size of the tumor. You may be given contrast liquid to help the tumor and blood vessels show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • A biopsy is a procedure to remove a small piece of tissue from your liver to be tested for cancer.

How is liver cancer treated?

  • Surgery may be done to remove tumors that are small and have not spread to other parts of the body.
  • Medicines may be used to reduce the size of the tumor. Medicines may also be given to prevent cancer cells from growing or spreading. Medicine may also be used to reduce blood flow to the tumor or kill cancer cells. Your healthcare provider may also recommend you receive the HBV vaccine to prevent hepatitis B.
  • Ablation or embolization may be done to treat the tumor or reduce blood flow to the tumor. These procedures involve using radio waves, lasers, or light, or injecting medicine near the tumor.
  • Radiation therapy uses x-rays or gamma rays to treat cancer. Radiation kills cancer cells and may stop the cancer from spreading. It may also be used to shrink the tumor and decrease pain.
  • A liver transplant is surgery to replace your damaged liver with a donor liver.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

What can I do to manage liver cancer?

  • Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol harms your liver. It can also make your symptoms worse.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine can damage blood vessels and make it more difficult to manage your liver cancer. Smoking also increases your risk for new or returning cancer and delays healing after treatment. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in place of cigarettes or to help you quit. They still contain nicotine. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help quitting.
  • Drink liquids as directed. Too much or not enough liquid can cause swelling in your legs and abdomen. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Eat small meals throughout the day. You may not feel hungry, but it is important that you eat. Proper nutrition can give you more energy and help you feel better. A dietitian can help you find ways to get enough protein, calories, vitamins, and minerals. Ask if you need to limit sodium (salt).
  • Exercise as directed. Exercise can help increase your energy level and appetite. Ask your healthcare provider how much exercise you need an which exercises are best for you.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) or have someone call if:

  • You feel lightheaded, short of breath, or have chest pain.
  • You cough up or vomit blood.
  • You are confused, or very drowsy and hard to wake.

When should I call my doctor or oncologist?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have increased weakness or fatigue.
  • You have appetite loss or weight loss.
  • You have increased abdominal pain or swelling.
  • You vomit or cannot keep food or liquids down.
  • You have increased jaundice or your urine is dark.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

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 healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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Learn more about Liver Cancer

Treatment options

Symptoms and treatments

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.