Hepatocellular carcinoma starts in the liver as opposed to metastatic liver cancer, which starts in another organ and spreads to the liver.

One of the most common sources of metastatic liver cancer is from tumors of the colon and rectum.

In most cases, the cause of liver cancer is long-term damage and scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). Cirrhosis may be caused by:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Autoimmune diseases of the liver
  • Hepatitis B or C virus infection
  • Inflammation of the liver that is long-term (chronic)
  • Iron overload in the body (hemochromatosis)
  • People with hepatitis B or C are at high risk of liver cancer, even if they do not develop cirrhosis.

Liver Cancer Symptoms

  • Symptoms of liver cancer may include any of the following:
  • Abdominal pain or tenderness, especially in the upper-right part
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Enlarged abdomen
  • Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • Unexplained weight loss

Liver Cancer Diagnosis

Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. The physical exam may show an enlarged, tender liver or other signs of cirrhosis.

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

  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Liver biopsy
  • Liver enzymes (liver function tests)
  • Liver MRI
  • Serum alpha fetoprotein

Some people who have a high chance of developing liver cancer may get regular blood tests and ultrasounds to see whether tumors are developing.

To accurately diagnose hepatocellular carcinoma, a biopsy of the tumor must be done.

Multidisciplinary Approach to Liver Cancer Treatment

Treatment depends on how advanced the cancer is.

Various liver surgeries may be done if the tumor has not spread. Before surgery, the tumor may be treated with chemotherapy to reduce its size.

Radiation treatments in the area of the cancer may also be helpful.

Ablation treatments such as radiofrequency ablation or cryoablation may also be used to treat liver cancer. Other available treatments include chemoembolization and radioembolization.

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

At the Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center, management of gastrointestinal cancers focuses on preventive measures, early detection and the most advanced forms of treatment.

Some of these cancers are among the most complex and difficult to treat, and patients can take comfort in knowing they are being treated by a team of specialists that is among the most experienced in the country.

It is because of our multidisciplinary approach to cancer treatment, that we have been designated by the National Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of only 41 in the country.

Liver Cancer Ablation and Embolization

Brian Kouri, MD, an interventional radiologist at Wake Forest Baptist Health, talks about what to expect when being treated for cancer of the liver through ablation or embolization.