Liver Cancer

You have learned that you have liver cancer, but may not be very familiar with the liver and its function. Atlanta Liver & Pancreas Surgical Specialists treat many of the diseases that cause tumors, masses and cysts in the liver, and our care team is here to help you every step of the way.

Liver Cancer Overview

The term liver cancer refers to a specific type of liver tumor that arises from liver cells, often referred to as hepatocellular carcinoma or HCC. There are, however, many diseases that cause tumors in the liver that are not liver cancer.

The liver is one of the largest organs in the body and has many important functions like helping to keep the blood clean, digesting fat in foods and storing sugar for the body to use as energy.

One of the most common cancers worldwide, HCC has become a leading cause of cancer death. It is caused by cirrhosis, diabetes or chronic infection from hepatitis B or C. It can also occur in patients with normal livers.

Cirrhosis is a condition that causes scarring of the liver in which healthy liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue that blocks the flow of blood through the liver. Damage to the liver from cirrhosis can increase your chance of developing liver cancer.

As in most cancers, survival rates are best for patients whose cancer is localized, or confined to the liver. However, unlike most cancers, liver cancer survival rates also depend on the severity of the underlying liver disease. This means that for patients with hepatocellular carcinoma it is important to look at how the treatment of your tumor will also affect your liver disease. Your doctor will discuss the various treatment options, with a plan tailored to you, your liver and your cancer.

Signs & Symptoms

Liver cancer can be difficult to detect early. Often, signs that lead to diagnosis relate more to liver disease than to the tumor itself.  Symptoms of liver cancer may include:

  • Abdominal pain and/or swelling
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice (yellowish coloring of the skin and eyes)
  • Fever

Risk Factors

Not every patient with cirrhosis will get liver cancer, and not every patient with liver cancer has cirrhosis. The following risk factors and conditions that can increase your risk of liver cancer:

  • Heavy alcohol use can cause a condition called cirrhosis where scar tissue blocks blood flow.
  • Smoking cigarettes increases your risk. The longer you’ve smoked, and the more you smoke, the higher the risk.
  • Having been infected with hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV) cause damage to the liver.
  • You have a personal history of type 2 diabetes.
  • You are very overweight or obese.
  • You have a rare genetic condition.
  • History of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). A severe form of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease that often leads to cirrhosis.
  • You have been exposed to certain chemicals including certain herbicides, vinyl chloride and arsenic.

Some patients with liver cancer have no known risk factors.

Liver Cancer Survival

Knowing the survival rates for liver cancer can help to give you an idea of what percentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer typically survive after their diagnosis. It may also help to give you a better understanding of how likely it is that your treatment will be successful.

For patients diagnosed with localized disease, the 5-year survival rate ranges from 31 - 70%. The five-year relative survival rate for all stages of liver cancer combined is 18% worldwide; however, this depends on the degree of a patient’s underlying liver disease and the extent of the liver cancer. When liver cancer is detected late, especially in patients with advanced liver disease, few patients will survive five years. However, patients whose cancer is detected early, even with large tumors, may be able to be cured with proper treatment.

Prevention & Screening

The following are ways to help lower your risk for developing liver cancer:

  • Get the HBV vaccine.
  • Get the HCV screening if you were born between 1945 and 1965.
  • Treat chronic HBV and HCV.
    • Even after treatment and cure from Hepatitis C, you may still run the risk of developing liver cancer, therefore, routine (twice a year) liver cancer screening is recommended.
  • Screening of all donated blood, organs and tissues.
  • Minimize your alcohol consumption.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Lose weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Drink coffee in moderation (coffee reduces HCC risk).

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