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Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of adult primary liver cancer.

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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Liver cancer - Hepatocellular carcinoma

Primary liver cell carcinoma; Tumor - liver; Cancer - liver; Hepatoma

Last reviewed: September 20, 2013.

Hepatocellular carcinoma is cancer that starts in the liver.

Causes

Hepatocellular carcinoma accounts for most liver cancers. This type of cancer occurs more often in men than women. It is usually seen in people age 50 or older.

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 liver cancer is scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). Cirrhosis may be caused by:

Patients with hepatitis B or C are at high risk of liver cancer, even if they do not develop cirrhosis.

Symptoms

Exams and Tests

The doctor will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. The physical exam may show an enlarged, tender liver.

If the doctor suspects liver cancer, tests that may be ordered include:

Some high-risk patients may get regular blood tests and ultrasounds to see whether tumors are developing.

Treatment

Treatment depends on how advanced the cancer is.

Surgery may be done if the tumor has not spread. Before surgery, the tumor may be treated with chemotherapy to reduce its size. This is done by delivering the medicine straight into the liver with a tube (catheter).

Radiation treatments in the area of the cancer may also be helpful. But many patients have liver cirrhosis or other liver diseases that make these treatments more difficult.

Ablation is another method that may be used. (Ablate means to destroy.) Types of ablation include using:

  • Radio waves or microwaves
  • Ethanol (an alcohol) or acetic acid (vinegar)
  • Extreme cold (cryoablation)

A liver transplant may be recommended for certain persons who have both cancer and cirrhosis.

Support Groups

You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.

Outlook (Prognosis)

If the cancer cannot be completely removed, the disease is usually fatal within 3 to 6 months. But survival can vary depending on how advanced the cancer is when diagnosed and how successful treatment is.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you develop ongoing abdominal pain, especially if you have a history of any liver disease.

Prevention

References

  1. National Cancer Institute: PDQ Adult Primary Liver Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified 09/20/2013. Accessed September 24, 2013.
  2. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Hepatobiliary Cancers. Version 2.2013. Accessed September 24, 2013.

Review Date: 9/20/2013.

Reviewed by: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Radiofrequency ablation for the treatment of liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma)Radiofrequency ablation for the treatment of liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma)
    Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) is the fifth most common cancer worldwide. In the majority of patients, hepatocellular carcinoma is diagnosed at advanced stages of the disease and is mostly accompanied by liver cirrhosis. To date, there is no medical cure for patients with hepatocellular carcinoma, and treatment aims to slow tumour growth. In high‐income countries, about 30% of patients present with the more favourable early hepatocellular carcinoma. For these patients, percutaneous ablation techniques (destruction of the cancer cells by heat, cold, or chemical substances such as ethanol), surgical resection (removal of part of the liver), and liver transplantation (which is limited by organ donor shortage) are currently considered potentially curative treatments. Radiofrequency (thermal) ablation (RFA) is the most elaborated of the percutaneous interventions, so far. Heat caused by alternating electric current is administered by probes that are inserted through the skin (percutaneously).
See all (13) ...

Figures

  • Digestive system.
    Liver biopsy.
    Hepatocellular cancer, CT scan.

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