Located under your right ribs and lung, the pyramid-shaped liver has two lobes and is mainly made up by cells called hepatocytes.
Cancer that begins in the liver is called primary liver cancer. Liver cancer occurs when cells begin to grow abnormally and don't die off like normal cells do. This build up of abnormal cells often forms a mass known as a tumor.
When liver cells start growing abnormally they can become cancerous and invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body.
Abnormal, cancerous cells prevent normal liver cells from doing their job, which involves:
- Filtering and removing toxic wastes from the blood
- Producing a fluid called bile that helps digest food fats for absorption by the body
- Breaking down and storing many nutrients your body needs to function
- Manufacturing most of the clotting factors that keep a cut from bleeding too much
Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC) (Malignant Hepatoma)
Most primary liver cancer begins in the cells called the hepatocytes and is known as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) or malignant hepatoma.
HCC is the most common form of primary liver cancer in adults and accounts for 4 out of 5 primary liver cancers.
Some hepatocellular carcinomas start as a single tumor and grow larger, spreading to other parts of the body in the late stages of the disease. Other HCCs start as spots throughout the liver, rather than a single tumor. This is the most common pattern in the U.S., especially in people with ongoing liver damage (cirrhosis).
Doctors determine which subtypes of HCC a patient has by looking at the cancer cells under a microscope. The subtype of HCC does not usually affect treatment or outlook (prognosis).
However, a rare type of HCC called fibrolamellar can have a better prognosis than other subtypes of hepatocellular carcinoma.
Bile Duct Cancer (Intrahepatic Cholangiocarcinoma)
This primary liver cancer accounts for 1 or 2 out of every 10 cases of liver cancer. Each year, about 2,000 to 3,000 people in the United States develop bile duct cancer.
This type of cancer begins in the cells of the small tubes called the bile ducts, which carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder.
In the United States, a man's lifetime risk of getting liver or intrahepatic bile duct cancer is about 1 in 85 while a woman's risk is about 1 in 204.
The early stages of liver cancer don't usually cause symptoms. As the cancer grows larger, common symptoms may include:
- A lump or a feeling of heaviness in the upper abdomen
- Pain in the right, upper abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
- Yellow skin and eyes, pale stools and dark urine from jaundice (a yellowish discoloration of the skin that occurs when the liver is not working properly or when a bile duct is blocked)
- Swollen abdomen (bloating)
- Loss of appetite and feelings of fullness
- Weight loss
- Weakness or feeling very tired