Skip to Main Content

Liver Cancer

Hepatocellular carcinoma accounts for most primary liver cancers. Hepatocellular carcinoma is not the same as metastatic liver cancer, which starts in another organ (such as the breast or colon) and spreads to the liver. In most cases, the cause of primary liver cancer is usually scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), which may be caused by alcohol abuse, hepatitis B or C infection, chronic inflammation of the liver, autoimmune diseases of the liver, or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which is the more severe form of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Signs and Symptoms of Liver Cancer

  • Abdominal pain or tenderness, especially in the upper-right part
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Enlarged abdomen
  • Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)


  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Liver biopsy
  • Liver enzymes (liver function tests)
  • Liver MRI
  • Serum alpha fetoprotein test

Treatment for Liver Cancer

  • Surgical resection is first-line treatment for early-stage cancers
  • Liver transplant may be considered if there is only one tumor 5 cm or less in size, or up to three tumors, any of which are no larger than 2 cm in size
  • Interventional radiology procedures including transarterial chemoembolization (TACE), yttrium 90 radioembolization and radiofrequency ablation may provide a bridge to surgery or transplant
  • Chemotherapy is considered in advanced stages as a palliative treatment to shrink the tumor and reduce pain
  • Sorafenib tosylate, an oral medicine that blocks tumor growth, is used to treat patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma

Treatment for Liver Metastatic Disease

  • Surgery if there is a single lesion or two
  • Chemotherapy before or after surgery may be recommended to shrink tumors or prevent further spread of the disease
  • Chemotherapy alone may be considered if there are more than two liver lesions, if the cancer is otherwise inoperable, or if the patient is not a candidate for surgery