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Liver Cancer

An estimated 24,000 new liver cancer cases are diagnosed every year in the United States.

What are Liver Cancers?

There are two main types of primary liver cancers: hepatocellular carcinoma and cholangiocarcinoma (cancer of the bile ducts).

Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Hepatocellular carcinoma is a disease where cancer cells form in the tissues of the liver. It's the most common type of liver cancer and affects an estimated 24,000 people in the United States each year.

Cholangiocarcinoma (Bile Duct Cancer)

Cholangiocarcinoma is a rare cancer that occurs in ducts that drain bile from the liver to the small intestine. Between 2,000 and 3,000 people are diagnosed each year in the US.

Liver Metastasis

Liver metastasis is cancer that started in another part of the body and has spread to the liver.

Metastasis is often referred to as a secondary cancer. The secondary cancer is the same type of cancer as the primary cancer.

For example, if colorectal cancer spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are actually colorectal cancer cells. The disease is metastatic colorectal cancer, not liver cancer.

The most common cancers that spread to the liver include:

There are three ways cancer can spread in the body:

Risk Factors and Symptoms

Risk factors and warning signs are similar for each type of liver cancer.

Risk factors may include:

Symptoms of liver cancer, particularly in the early stages, are often not acute or intense. When they do appear, liver cancer is often advanced.

Symptoms and warning signs may include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Hard lump on the right side below the rib cage
  • Jaundice
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Pain near the right shoulder blade
  • Pain or swelling in the upper abdomen
  • Unexplained weight loss

Diagnosing Liver Cancer

Tests and procedures to diagnose liver cancer include:

  • X-ray
  • Ultrasound
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans

More About Liver Cancer

Learn more about adult liver cancer and childhood liver cancer from the National Cancer Institute.

Other cancers of the biliary tract include pancreatic cancer and gallbladder cancer. Learn more about gallbladder cancer from the National Cancer Institute.