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Liver cancer

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on August 18, 2022.

Liver cancer is the 13th most common cancer in the United States, with about 41,630 new cases expected to be diagnosed in 2024. The liver is a critical organ the body cannot live without. It helps filter impurities and produces bile, which helps the body digest food and process fats. Damage to the liver from illness or disease may increase the risk of liver cancer and impact treatment options for the diseases.

No liver cancer patient is the same. Get personalized treatment.

At City of Hope, our medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, interventional radiologists and other experts have years of experience delivering the range of cancer treatments available for liver tumors. Our whole-person care model is designed to support patients throughout their treatment journey and includes supportive care services to help them manage side effects and maintain their quality of life.

This overview will cover the basic facts about liver cancer, including:

What does the liver do?

Liver cancer statistics and facts

Liver cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world and is now the fastest-growing cause of cancer death. It also occurs more frequently in men, with the disease affecting men about three times more often than women. The incidence rate of the disease is also increasing exponentially.

  • Liver cancer diagnoses increased by 75 percent worldwide between 1990 and 2015.
  • In the United States, the number of diagnoses has more than tripled since 1980.

The American Cancer Society estimates 41,630 new cases of liver cancer and intrahepatic bile duct cancer, which forms in the bile duct branches in the liver, will be diagnosed in the United States in 2024.

What are the risk factors for liver cancer?

Liver cancer symptoms

Symptoms of liver cancer may not be noticeable until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage.

Liver cancer symptoms may include:

  • Discomfort in the upper abdomen on the right side, where the liver is located
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Hard lump on the right side just below the rib cage
  • Back pain or pain near the right shoulder blade
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Issues with eating: Not having an appetite, feeling full after a small meal, or losing weight with no known reason
  • Pale bowel movements or dark urine

Learn more about liver cancer symptoms

Types of liver cancer

Liver cancer stages

Doctors may order tests to determine how much primary liver cancer has progressed, called the stage of cancer. MRI, PET or CT scans are imaging tests that may help find cancerous cells in the body. After doctors analyze the patient’s test results, they may determine the cancer’s stage and discuss the most appropriate treatment options to consider.

There are several types of liver cancer staging systems, and some are used more than others in different parts of the world. A patient’s care team is the best resource for understanding the stage of any particular type of cancer.

Learn more about liver cancer stages

Diagnosing liver cancer

Liver cancer treatment options

Many treatment options are used for liver cancer, including surgery, radiation therapy and immunotherapy. The appropriate option may depend on how much liver damage has been caused by cancer or other conditions, and whether the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body, among other factors.

Treatment options for liver cancer include:

Learn more about liver cancer treatments

Liver cancer diagnosis and treatment at our GI Cancer Centers