When cells in the liver become abnormal, grow out of control, and form a cancerous tumor, the disease is called primary liver cancer. Primary liver cancer is also called malignant hepatoma or hepatocellular carcinoma.
In the United States, primary liver cancer is uncommon. About 5,000 new cases are diagnosed in this country each year, accounting for less than 1/2 of 1 percent of all cancers. In other parts of the world, however, primary liver cancer is one of the most common types of cancer and causes more deaths than any other type of cancer. Worldwide, this disease is a major health problem. Rates are highest in Asia and Africa and are believed to be related to infection with the hepatitis-B virus (HBV).
Primary liver cancer is not the same disease as cancer that spreads (metastasizes) to the liver from another part of the body (secondary liver cancer). The liver is often the site of secondary tumors that result from the spread of cancer from another organ, such as the colon or breast. When cancer spreads, the cancer cells in the secondary tumor are like those of the original cancer. This original cancer is called the primary cancer, and is named for the part of the body in which it began. (When the disease spreads, it keeps the name of the primary cancer.) Thus, cancer that begins in the colon or breast and spreads to the liver is called metastatic colon cancer or metastatic breast cancer not liver cancer.
Risk Factors for Primary Liver Cancer
Doctors can't always explain why one person gets liver cancer and another doesn't. However, we do know that people with certain risk factors may be more likely than others to develop liver cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of getting a disease.Studies have found the following risk factors for liver cancer:
- Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis is a serious disease that develops when liver cells are damaged and replaced with scar tissue. Many exposures cause cirrhosis, including HBV or HCV infection, heavy alcohol use, too much iron stored in the liver, certain drugs, and certain parasites. Almost all cases of liver cancer in the United States occur in people who first had cirrhosis, usually resulting from hepatitis B or C infection, or from heavy alcohol use.
- Infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV): Liver cancer can develop after many years of infection with either of these viruses.
- Heavy alcohol use: Having more than two drinks of alcohol each day for many years increases the risk of liver cancer and certain other cancers. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol that a person drinks.
- Aflatoxin: Liver cancer can be caused by aflatoxin, a harmful substance made by certain types of mold found on peanuts, corn, and other nuts and grains. The United States has safety measures limiting aflatoxin in the food supply.
- Iron storage disease: Liver cancer may develop among people with a disease that causes the body to store too much iron in the liver and other organs.
- Obesity and diabetes: Studies have shown that obesity and diabetes may be important risk factors for liver cancer.
The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance that liver cancer will develop. However, many people with known risk factors for liver cancer don't develop the disease.
Early liver cancer often doesn't cause symptoms. When the cancer grows larger, people may notice one or more of these common symptoms:
- Pain in the upper abdomen on the right side
- A lump or a feeling of heaviness in the upper abdomen
- Swollen abdomen (bloating)
- Loss of appetite and feelings of fullness
- Weight loss
- Weakness or feeling very tired
- Nausea and vomiting
- Yellow skin and eyes, pale stools, and dark urine from jaundice
Lung Cancer Treatment
Treatment for primary liver cancer depends on:
- the number, size, and location of tumors in your liver
- how well your liver is working and whether you have cirrhosis
- whether the cancer has spread outside your liver
Other factors to consider include your age, general health, and concerns about the treatments and their possible side effects. In some cases patients may only require one treatment type, while other patients may need a combination of treatments.
At Cooper, new chemotherapy regimens, targeted drug therapies, advanced surgical techniques and advanced radiation therapy tools such as the CyberKnife give our cancer experts more options to treat lung cancer and improve patient outcomes.
Metastatic Liver Cancer
Sometimes, other cancers like breast and colon cancer can spread to the liver – this is not liver cancer, but the primary cancer that has metastasized to the liver. At MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper, our cancer teams are experts in treating cancers that have spread to the liver.
Treatment for Liver Cancer
Treatments for liver cancer available in South Jersey at Cooper include:
Departments Specializing in Liver Cancer Treatment
Departments at Cooper that treat Liver Cancer include:
Physicians Who Specialize in Liver Cancer
Our liver cancer specialists include: