Liver cancer is characterized by the growth or spread of abnormal or malignant cells in the liver tissue. Cancer that originates in the liver is called primary liver cancer. Metastatic cancer can spread to the liver from other areas and organs, such as the colon, breast, and pancreas is common, but unrelated to chronic liver disease. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is responsible for about 90% of the primary liver cancers in adults. HCC is more common in men than women. People with hepatitis B or C are at a high risk of liver cancer, even if they do not get cirrhosis. Hepatitis B and C causes long-lasting liver cell damage, which could lead to liver cancer.
Primary liver cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths globally. In the U.S. it is the most rapidly rising form of cancer.
In the U.S., chronic hepatitis C is the most common cause of HCC. In most patients in whom HCC develops there is underlying cirrhosis or extensive liver fibrosis as a consequence of long-standing chronic liver disease. There is a consensus that better biochemical and imaging methods to identify early cancers is likely to improve survival. Treatment of HCC with chemotherapy, surgical resection, transplantation and other approaches has increased overall survival but it remains suboptimal. There is a clear need for more effective therapies.
Liver cancer is usually diagnosed by imaging tests and scans, blood tests, and angiograms.
A liver biopsy may be needed to check how much of the liver has been damaged. During a biopsy, a small piece of liver tissue is removed and studied in the lab. Liver cancer treatment depends on the liver’s condition, the size, location, and number of tumors, and if the cancer has spread outside the liver.