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Liver Cancer

Liver Cancer, Symptoms and Causes

The North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute provides comprehensive and coordinated care for the diagnoses and treatment of all cancers of the digestive system including liver, gallbladder and bile ducts, colon, rectum, pancreas, esophagus, stomach and bowel.

To achieve the best possible treatment outcomes, our team of medical, surgical and radiation oncologists, gastroenterologists, pathologists, nurses and social workers collaborates to develop an individualized treatment plan and provide the highest quality of care for the diagnosis, treatment and support to people with liver cancer.

We provide the newest and most promising treatments including Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT). This treatment allows for precise radiation doses to navigate to specific areas within the tumor through three-dimensional imaging and therapies only available through clinical research trials. The most advanced procedures are employed including minimally invasive surgery, video endoscopy for diagnosis, and laparoscopic techniques for colon and rectal cancer surgery.

Liver Cancer: An Overview

What Are Cancerous Liver Tumors?

Cancerous (malignant) tumors in the liver have either originated in the liver (primary liver cancer) or spread from cancer sites elsewhere in the body (metastatic liver cancer). Most cancerous tumors in the liver are metastatic.

The most common form of primary liver cancer is:

  • Hepatoma — Also called hepatocellular carcinoma, this is the most common form of primary liver cancer. Chronic infection with hepatitis B and C increases the risk of developing this type of cancer. Other causes include cancer-causing substances, alcoholism and chronic liver cirrhosis.

Other less common primary liver cancers include the following:

  • Cholangiocarcinoma — a cancer that originates in the lining of the bile channels in the liver or in the bile ducts.
  • Hepatoblastoma — a cancer in infants and children, sometimes causing the release of hormones that result in early puberty.
  • Angiosarcoma — a rare cancer that originates in the blood vessels of the liver

What Is Metastatic Liver Cancer?

Metastatic liver cancer that spreads from other areas in the body to the liver usually originated in the lung, breast, colon, pancreas and stomach. Leukemia and other blood cancers sometimes also spread to the liver.

Hepatoma: The Most Common Form of Primary Liver Cancer

What Are the Symptoms of a Liver Hepatoma?

The following are the most common symptoms of a liver hepatoma. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Large mass can be felt in upper, right part of abdomen
  • Fever
  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes 

The symptoms of a liver hepatoma may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How Is Liver Hepatoma Diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for a liver hepatoma may include the following:

  • Liver function tests — a series of special blood tests that can determine if the liver is functioning properly.
  • Abdominal ultrasound (also called sonography) — a diagnostic imaging technique which uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the internal organs. Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs of the abdomen such as the liver, spleen, and kidneys and to assess blood flow through various vessels.
  • Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) — a diagnostic imaging procedure using a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.
  • Hepatic arteriography — x-rays taken after a substance in injected into the hepatic artery.
  • Liver biopsy — a procedure in which tissue samples from the liver are removed (with a needle or during surgery) from the body for examination under a microscope.

What Is the Treatment for Liver Hepatoma?

Specific treatment for liver hepatoma will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health and medical history
  • Extent of the disease
  • Your tolerance of specific medicines, procedures or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference 

Treatment may include:

  • Surgery — In some cases, surgery may be used to remove cancerous tissue from the liver. However, the tumor must be small and confined.
  • Radiation therapy — Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill or shrink cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy — Chemotherapy uses anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells.
  • Liver transplantation 

What Is Metastatic Liver Cancer?

Cancer that has spread from other areas in the body to the liver usually originated in the lung, breast, colon, pancreas and stomach. Leukemia and other blood cancers sometimes also spread to the liver. 

What Are the Symptoms of Metastatic Liver Cancer?

The following are the most common symptoms of metastatic liver cancer. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Enlarged, hard and tender liver
  • Fever
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Ascites, or fluid build-up in the abdominal cavity
  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness

The symptoms of metastatic liver cancer may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis. 

How Is Metastatic Liver Cancer Diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for metastatic liver cancer may include the following:

  • Liver function tests — a series of special blood tests that can determine if the liver is functioning properly
  • Abdominal ultrasound (also called sonography) — a diagnostic imaging technique which uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the internal organs. Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs of the abdomen such as the liver, spleen and kidneys and to assess blood flow through various vessels.
  • Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) — a diagnostic imaging procedure using a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body
  • Liver biopsy — a procedure in which tissue samples from the liver are removed (with a needle or during surgery) from the body for examination under a microscope 

How Is Metastatic Liver Cancer Treated?

Specific treatment for metastatic liver cancer will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health and medical history
  • Extent of the disease
  • Your tolerance of specific medicines, procedures or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Surgery — In some cases surgery may be used to remove cancerous tissue from the liver. However, the tumor must be small and confined.
  • Radiation therapy — Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill or shrink cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy — Chemotherapy uses anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells.

Liver Cancer Clinical Trials

The North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute offers a full array of clinical trials. The result of this research not only impacts survival, but also enhances the quality of life. For more information about clinical trials for Liver Cancer, visit Cancer Clinical Trials.

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