The liver is the largest organ inside the body and is located just below the ribs on the right side. The liver has many functions: it filters waste and other harmful materials from the blood, it produces enzymes and bile that help with digestion, and it produces chemicals and hormones necessary for regulating many body functions. Liver cells are called hepatocytes.
Liver cancer is classified as either primary, starting in the liver; or secondary, spreading to the liver from cancer in another part of body. Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common form of primary liver cancer.
It develops in the liver cells, and damages other healthy liver cells. Continuous growth of cancerous hepatocytes can cause malignant, or cancerous, tumors to form.
In its early stages, liver cancer does not produce many symptoms and is hard to detect. As the cancer grows, symptoms such as abdominal pain and bloating, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes, may appear.
While doctors do not know exactly what causes liver cancer, chronic liver infections, such as viral hepatitis B and C, and cirrhosis of the liver can increase a persons risk for developing the disease. Men are more likely to develop liver cancer, as are people over the age of 60.
There are different treatment options available depending on the type and stage of the cancer. Surgery or a liver transplant are options only if the tumor is small and contained within the liver. If the tumor is very large or has spread beyond the liver, chemotherapy or radiation may relieve symptoms and prolong life, but this is not a cure.
This medical animation illustrates how the liver functions in the body and how cancer can develop. The narrator differentiates between primary (starts in the liver) and secondary (spreads to the liver from another part of the body) origination. The video also reviews symptoms, risk factors and treatment options.