Liver Cancer

Liver cancer is uncommon in the United States but is common worldwide due to risk factors such as chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections and aflatoxin exposure. Symptoms may include jaundice (a yellowing of the skin), pain in the upper abdomen, right shoulder blade pain, and weight loss. Doctors diagnose the condition using a combination of imaging tests and blood tests. Depending on the size of the tumor, treatment options may include removal of the tumor, liver transplantation, targeted therapies, chemotherapy, and sometimes radiation therapy.

Liver cancer arises in the liver, an organ located beneath your lower ribs on the right side of your abdomen. It's important to distinguish primary liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) and bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) from tumors which begin in other places of the body and spread to the liver (liver metastases). Liver metastases are much more common than primary liver cancers and are treated in the way that a primary cancer (such as lung cancer or breast cancer) are treated, instead of the way that primary liver cancer is treated.

The functions of the liver are important to know as you look at the possible symptoms of the disease. The liver play roles in detoxifying substances, secreting bile to aid in digestion and making hormones that are important in the production of red blood cells.

In addition to the cancers mentioned above, there are less common types of liver cancer. A few of these include hepatoblastoma, a rare form of childhood cancer, and angiosarcoma of the liver. This review will focus primarily on primary liver cancer and bile duct cancer.


The signs and symptoms of liver cancer tend not to be noticed until the cancer reaches an advanced stage.

Liver cancer may trigger the following effects:

  • jaundice
  • abdominal pain
  • unexplained weight loss
  • an enlarged liver
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • back pain
  • itching
  • fever