by | Oct 9, 2015 | Awareness Day/Month

What is liver cancer or hepatic cancer?

Liver is the largest internal organ in the body. It is essential for the digestion of food. Cancers that start in the liver are known as primary liver cancers and if the cancer spreads from one part to the other part such as liver then it is called secondary liver cancers.


According to the WHO, there are 745000 liver cancer deaths globally in 2012.

Liver cancer is the tenth most common cancer and the fifth most common cause of cancer death among men, and the ninth most common cause of cancer death among women.

The incidence of liver cancer varies widely throughout the world, with high rates in sub – Saharan Africa, eastern and southeastern Asia, and Melanesia and a low incidence in Northern and Western Europe and the Americas.


  • Infection with hepatitis viruses
  • Smoking
  • Low immunity
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
  • Family history
  • Diabetes
  • Radiation from X-rays and CT-scans
  • Body weight
  • Chemicals

Risk factors

  • Viral hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis
  • Obesity, Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and diabetes
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Environmental factors

Having more than one risk factor increases the risk of developing liver cancer more. For example, a person who carries both hepatitis B and C has a higher risk than a person carrying one type of the virus.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Pain, especially at the top right of the abdominal area, or near the right shoulder blade or in the back
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • A hard lump under the ribs on the right side of the body, which could be the tumor or a sign that the liver has increased in size
  • Weakness or fatigue

How is liver cancer diagnosed?

  • Physical examination
  • Blood tests
  • Ultrasound
  • Computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Angiogram
  • Laparoscopy
  • Biopsy

Based on the test results, staging is done by doctors.

Types of liver cancer

There are a number of types of adult primary liver cancer. They are named for the type of cell from which the cancer develops.

Type of Liver Cancer Description How Common
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) HCC can have different growth patterns. Some spread tentacle-like growths through the liver. Some start as a single tumor that spreads to other parts of the liver as the disease develops. Others develop as nodules at several different places in the liver. Occasionally, a pattern isn’t clear. Approximately 80% of adult primary liver cancers are hepatocellular carcinomas.
Cholangiocarcinoma, (or bile duct cancer) Develops from the cells in the bile duct of the liver. The bile duct is a thin tube that extends from the liver to the small intestine. The bile duct starts inside the liver as several smaller tubes that join together. About 10% to 20% of adult primary liver cancers are cholangiocarcinomas.
Angiosarcoma Starts in the blood vessels of the liver and grows very quickly. About 1% of adult primary liver cancers are angiosarcomas.


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