Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the liver, it is called liver cancer1 . Each year in the United States, about 33,000 people get liver cancer, and about 26,000 people die from the disease. The percentage of Americans who get liver cancer has been rising for several decades. Jay Harold has written this post, “Liver Cancer: 6 Causes & 10 Symptoms,” on a disease that has a 5-year Relative Survival Rate of 17.2%2 .
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, exceeded only by heart disease. One of every four deaths in the United States is due to cancer. A brief overview of the liver is due.
What Is the Liver?
The liver is the largest organ in the human body, located on the upper right side of the body, behind the lower ribs. The liver does many jobs, including—
- Storing nutrients.
- Removing waste products and worn-out cells from the blood.
- Filtering and processing chemicals in food, alcohol, and medications.
- Producing bile, a solution that helps digest fats and eliminates waste products.
What Causes Liver Cancer?
Many liver cancer cases are related to hepatitis B virus or hepatitis C virus infections. Most people don’t know they have the virus.
Other behaviors and conditions that increase the risk for getting liver cancer are—
- Excessive alcohol use.
- Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver, which can also be caused by hepatitis and alcohol use).
- Having hemochromatosis, a condition where the body takes up and stores more iron than it needs.
- Eating foods that have aflatoxin (a fungus that can grow on foods, such as grains and nuts that have not been stored properly).
What Are the Symptoms of Liver Cancer?
In its early stages, liver cancer may not have symptoms that can be seen or felt. However, as the cancer grows larger, people may notice one or more of these common symptoms. It’s important to remember that these symptoms could also be caused by other health conditions. If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor.
Liver cancer symptoms may include—
- Discomfort in the upper abdomen on the right side.
- A swollen abdomen.
- A hard lump on the right side just below the rib cage.
- Pain near the right shoulder blade or in the back.
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).
- Easy bruising or bleeding.
- Unusual tiredness.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Loss of appetite.
- Weight loss for no known reason.
How Can I Reduce My Risk for Liver Cancer?
You can lower your risk of getting liver cancer in the following ways—
- Get vaccinated against Hepatitis B. The Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all infants at birth and for adults who may be at increased risk.
- Get tested for Hepatitis C, and get medical care if you have it.
- Avoid drinking too much alcohol.
The Data Visualizations tool makes it easy for anyone to explore and use the latest official federal government cancer data from United States Cancer Statistics. It includes the latest cancer data covering 100% of the U.S. population.
Rate of New Cancers by Race/Ethnicity, Both Sexes
Liver (Hepatocellular) Cancer Screening3
- Tests are used to screen for different types of cancer when a person does not have symptoms.
- There is no standard or routine screening test for liver cancer.
- CT scan
- Tumor markers
- Screening tests for liver cancer are being studied in clinical trials.
Tests are used to screen for different types of cancer when a person does not have symptoms
Scientists study screening tests to find those with the fewest harms and most benefits. Cancer screening trials also are meant to show whether early detection (finding cancer before it causes symptoms) helps a person live longer or decreases a person’s chance of dying from the disease. For some types of cancer, the chance of recovery is better if the disease is found and treated at an early stage.
There is no standard or routine screening test for liver cancer.
Although there are no standard or routine screening tests for liver cancer, the following tests are being used or studied to screen for it:
Ultrasound is a procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off the liver and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of the liver called a sonogram. The picture can be printed to be looked at later.
CT scan is a procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of the liver, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the liver show up more clearly. This procedure is also called a CAT scan or computed tomography.
Tumor markers, also called biomarkers, are substances made by the tumor that may be found in the blood, other body fluids, or tissues. A high level of a specific tumor marker may mean that a certain type of cancer is present in the body.
Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) is the most widely used tumor marker for detecting liver cancer. However, other cancers and certain conditions, including pregnancy, hepatitis, and other types of cancer, may also increase AFP levels.
Specific tumor markers that may lead to early detection of liver cancer are being studied.
Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Screening tests for liver cancer are being studied in clinical trials.
Information about clinical trials supported by NCI can be found on NCI’s clinical trials search webpage. Clinical trials supported by other organizations can be found on the ClinicalTrials.gov website.
Risks of Liver (Hepatocellular) Cancer Screening
- Screening tests have risks.
- The risks of liver cancer screening include the following:
- False-negative test results can occur.
- False-positive test results can occur.
- Side effects may be caused by procedures to diagnose liver cancer.
Screening tests have risks.
Decisions about screening tests can be difficult. Not all screening tests are helpful, and most have risks. Before having any screening test, you may want to discuss the test with your doctor. It is essential to know the risks of the test and whether it has been proven to reduce the risk of dying from cancer.
The risks of liver cancer screening include the following:
False-negative test results can occur.
Screening test results may appear to be normal even though liver cancer is present. A person who receives a false-negative test result (one that shows there is no cancer when there really is) may delay seeking medical care even if there are symptoms.
False-positive test results can occur.
Screening test results may appear to be abnormal even though no cancer is present. A false-positive test result(one that shows there is cancer when there really isn’t) can cause anxiety and is usually followed by diagnostic tests and procedures, such as a liver biopsy, which also have risks.
Side effects may be caused by procedures to diagnose liver cancer.
Abnormal screening results may lead to a liver biopsy to diagnose liver cancer. Liver biopsy may cause the following rare, but serious, side effects:
Your doctor can advise you about your risk for liver cancer and your need for screening tests.