Despite the overall rate of cancer deaths declining in the United States, the number of people diagnosed with liver cancer has continued to grow steadily for several decades. We understand that a liver cancer diagnosis can be one of the most frightening things you and your loved ones will experience. Mercy’s gastrointestinal cancer experts are dedicated to addressing your cancer needs from diagnosis to treatment to recovery.

What Is Liver Cancer?

Liver cancer is a type of intestinal cancer caused by cells in the liver growing out of control. However, cancer that spreads from another organ to the liver is more common than cancer that starts in the liver itself. Liver cancer is more difficult to diagnose in earlier stages than other types of cancer since signs and symptoms don’t usually appear until cancer has developed in size or spread to distant organs of the body. 

Types of Liver Cancer

The various types of liver cancer break down into two main categories: primary and secondary liver cancer.

Primary Liver Cancer

When cancer starts in your liver, it’s called primary liver cancer. Those with liver damage (cirrhosis) are at increased risk of developing primary liver cancers. There are various types of primary liver cancer which include:

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) - HCC is the most common kind of primary liver cancer. This can be one single tumor or multiple tumors in the liver. HCC may occur in patients with liver damage (cirrhosis).
  • Cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer) - bile ducts are tubes that carry bile to the gallbladder. Cholangiocarcinoma is a rare form of cancer that starts in the bile ducts of the liver.
  • Angiosarcoma & hemangiosarcoma - angiosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma are rare, yet fast-growing forms of liver cancer that begin to develop in the cells lining the blood vessels of the liver. People who have been exposed to vinyl chloride, arsenic or radium are more likely to develop these forms of liver cancer. 

Secondary Liver Cancer

Secondary liver cancer, also known as metastatic liver cancer, occurs when cancer starts somewhere else in the body and spreads to the liver. Primary breast cancer, lung cancer and renal cancers are common cancer types that can end up in the liver.

Liver Cancer Causes 

According to the American Cancer Society, the most common causes of liver cancer are chronic infections with hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV). However, there are a handful of other genetic and lifestyle risk factors that can determine someone’s likelihood of getting liver cancer. 

Common Risk Factors

  • Gender - men are more likely to develop liver cancer than women
  • Ethnicity - if you’re Asian American or Pacific Islander in the United States, you may be at greater risk of developing liver cancer at some point in your lifetime.
  • Type 2 diabetes - type 2 diabetes has been linked to an increased risk of developing liver cancer. This risk may be more severe, since people with type 2 diabetes may have other co-occurring risk factors, such as obesity, heavy alcohol use or chronic viral hepatitis.

Genetic Risk Factors

  • Inherited diseases - some inherited metabolic diseases can cause cirrhosis. People with inherited hemochromatosis, for example, absorb too much iron from their food. And if enough iron builds up in the liver, it can lead to cirrhosis and even liver cancer.
  • Chronic viral hepatitis - globally, the most common risk factor for liver cancer is chronic infection with HBV or HCV. People infected with both have an even greater risk of developing liver cancer.
  • Cirrhosis - cirrhosis is a disease where the cells in your liver become damaged and are replaced by scar tissue. In the United States, cases of cirrhosis have been commonly linked to alcohol abuse and chronic HBV or HCV infections. The majority of people who are diagnosed with liver cancer already have evidence of cirrhosis.

Lifestyle Risk Factors

  • Alcohol - heavy use of alcohol is a leading cause of cirrhosis, which can lead to liver cancer in some instances.
  • Obesity - overweight people are at greater risk of developing liver cancer. This is due to obesity being linked to fatty liver disease and cirrhosis.
  • Anabolic steroids - men who take anabolic steroids to increase their muscle mass can expect an increased risk of developing liver cancer.

If you have cirrhosis or active HBV or HCV infection talk to your Mercy provider about ultrasound screening for liver cancer.  

Liver Cancer Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of liver cancer aren't prevalent in the early stages and usually don't appear until cancer has advanced or grown in size. If you experience one or more of these symptoms over a period of time, it’s best to talk to your Mercy doctor to see if a liver cancer screening is right for you.

As the cancerous tumor develops, signs of liver cancer may include: 

  • Unintended weight loss
  • Sudden loss of appetite
  • Feeling of fullness, even after a small meal
  • Vomiting
  • Pain in the abdomen or near the right shoulder blade
  • Swelling or fluid in the abdomen
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
Diagnosis & Treatment for Liver Cancer

If you’re experiencing symptoms of liver cancer, it can be overwhelming. Mercy is here to help with everything from diagnosis to treatment. 

Learn about liver cancer diagnosis and treatment options. 

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