Liver cancer

background

Liver cancer is a cancer affecting the liver characterized by abnormal tumors or growths. Primary liver cancer or hepatoma forms in the tissues of the liver. Secondary liver cancer arises when cancer in other parts of the body spreads to the liver; the most common types of cancer that spread to the liver start in the bowel, breast, pancreas, stomach, lung, ovary, or skin (melanoma).
The liver is made up of cells called hepatocytes. The majority (over 90-95%) of primary liver cancer arises from these liver cells and is called hepatocellular carcinoma (cancer).
The liver is the second largest organ in the body (after the skin), and is essential in keeping the body functioning properly. The liver is located in the upper right-hand side of the abdomen. It performs many functions in the body, including processing the body's nutrients, manufacturing bile to help digest fats, synthesizing many important proteins, regulating blood clotting, and breaking down potentially toxic substances into harmless ones that the body can use or excrete.
Liver cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the world and the majority of patients with liver cancer will die within one year as a result of the cancer. Because the liver is close to or actually connected to several significant organs, and because the liver plays an important role in blood circulation by acting as a filter, metastatic (spreading) liver cancer occurs in over 75% of all terminal cancer patients.
In the United States, individuals with liver cirrhosis (a condition that causes irreversible damage to liver cells) caused by chronic hepatitis B or C infections, alcohol, and hemochromatosis (an inherited disease causing too much iron in the body) are at the greatest risk of developing liver cancer.
For some individuals with liver cancer, liver transplantation offers the best chance for cure.

Related Terms

Aflatoxins, alanine aminotransferase, alkaline phosphatase, ALP, alpha-fetoprotein, ALT, angiosarcoma, ascites, aspartate aminotransferase, AST, bilirubin, cancer, choangiocarcinoma, cirrhosis, HBV, HCV, hemangiosarcoma, hemochromatosis, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, hepatoblastoma, hepatocellular carcinoma, hepatocytes, hepatoma, jaundice, liver biopsy, metastatic, primary sclerosing cholangitis.

types of liver cancer

Primary liver cancer: Primary liver cancer is divided into several types based on the type of cells that become cancerous. Types include hepatocellular carcinoma, choangiocarcinoma, hepatoblastoma, and angiosarcoma or hemangiosarcoma.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common form of primary liver cancer in both children and adults. It starts in the hepatocytes, the main type of liver cell.
Cholangiocarcinoma begins in the small tube-like bile ducts within the liver. This type of cancer is sometimes called bile duct cancer.
Hepatoblastoma is a rare type of liver cancer arising in immature liver precursor cells. Hepatoblastoma affects children younger than four years of age. Most children with hepatoblastoma can be successfully treated.
Angiosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma are rare cancers that begin in the blood vessels of the liver and grow very quickly.
Metastatic cancer: In the United States, most cancer found in the liver has spread there from another part of the body. Rather than being referred to as liver cancer, this type of cancer is usually named after the organ where it originated and is described as "metastatic." For instance, cancer that has spread to the liver from the colon is referred to as metastatic colon cancer.
Metastatic cancers form when malignant cells detach from the primary cancer and travel through the body in the circulatory or lymphatic system. Cancers that begin in certain organs near the liver, such as the pancreas, can spread directly to the liver. Most metastatic cancers reach the liver through the bloodstream.