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Liver cancer is the 13th most common cancer in the United States, with more than 30,000 new cases diagnosed each year. 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.

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), our medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, interventional radiologists and other experts have years of experience delivering the range of cancer treatments available to treat liver tumors. Our whole-person care model is also 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.

About liver cancer

Liver cancer begins in the tissues of the liver, which is located in the upper right portion of the abdomen, beneath the diaphragm and above the stomach. The liver performs more than 500 essential tasks for the body, including:

  • Metabolizing fats, carbohydrates and protein
  • Storing vitamins and minerals from food
  • Filtering the blood
  • Aiding with digestion
  • Clearing toxins from the body

What causes liver cancer?

Harmful substances, like alcohol, drugs or fatty foods, damage the liver and cause liver cells to die. Although the liver can regenerate itself, if the damage continues for several years or decades, the organ may become permanently scarred, causing a condition called cirrhosis. Cirrhosis, diabetes and chronic infection with hepatitis B or C virus are all risk factors for liver cancer. Many of these conditions develop from behaviors that are often lifestyle-related, such as:

  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Drug use
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Unprotected sex

Learn more about risk factors for liver cancer

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 42,810 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 2020.

Liver cancer types

Liver cancer has several types, including:

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), also called hepatoma
  • Fibrolamellar HCC
  • Cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer)
  • Angiosarcoma, also called hemangiocarcinoma
  • Secondary liver cancer, also known as a liver cancer metastasis

Hepatocellular carcinoma is by far the most common type of liver tumor, accounting for an estimated 75 percent of all cases of the disease.

Learn more about liver cancer types

Liver cancer symptoms

Liver tumors generally don't cause symptoms until they've advanced. When symptoms do appear, they may include:

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Appetite loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Jaundice

Learn more about liver cancer symptoms

Diagnosing liver cancer

Diagnosis of liver tumors may include:

Learn more about diagnosing liver cancer

Treating liver cancer

Many treatment options are used for liver cancer, including surgery, radiation therapy and immunotherapy. Which option is appropriate for you depends 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. Your multidisciplinary team of cancer experts will answer your questions and recommend treatment options based on your unique diagnosis and needs. Treatment options for liver cancer include:

Interventional radiology
Interventional radiology procedures are designed to deliver treatments directly to the tumor using minimally invasive technologies that help spare surrounding healthy tissue.

Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy may be used before or after surgery to shrink tumors and target cancer cells, or as a systemic treatment for metastatic disease.

Radiation therapy
A variety of radiation therapy procedures may be an option to deliver radiation directly to cancer cells while reducing side effects.

Targeted therapy
Targeted therapy drugs seek out specific proteins unique to cancer cells.

Gastroenterology
A gastroenterologist may be required to treat liver cancer or relieve side effects.

Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy drugs work by blocking receptor proteins that allow cancer cells to hide from the immune system.

Learn more about treatments for liver cancer