About Liver Cancer

Liver cancer, also called hepatocellular carcinoma or HCC, is cancer that starts in the liver. Liver cancer often happens when you have a chronic (long lasting) liver disease such as hepatitis B or C or cirrhosis. So decisions about how to treat liver cancer can depend on how much the liver disease has already affected your liver.

Liver cancer is increasing in the United States, especially in people with chronic (long-lasting) liver diseases such as Hepatitis C and cirrhosis. In 2015, about 35,600 people were diagnosed with liver and bile duct cancers in the U.S.

Sometimes, other types of cancer spread to the liver. For example, this can happen with colon cancer and other gastrointestinal tumors, as well as prostate, breast, and lung cancer. When this happens, the cancer is called "secondary liver cancer." This cancer is in the liver, but did not start there.

About liver cirrhosis and liver cancer

Liver cirrhosis can lead to cancer. If you have cirrhosis or liver disease and any of the things below happen, you need to see a liver specialist as soon as possible.

  • High levels of certain enzymes – found when you have a blood test, often for another reason. Your doctor or other health care provider will likely tell you if you have these high levels.
  • Other abnormal blood test results
  • Yellow color to the skin and whites of the eyes
  • Swelling of the belly
  • Problems with memory, thinking, movements, speech or swallowing
  • Vomiting up blood, bowel movements that look black, dizziness and not urinating as much as normal
  • Areas of red, swollen blood vessels with thin lines from the center, like a spiderweb –The medical name for these is "spider angioma." Having more than three may be a sign of liver disease.

Signs of liver cancer

If you are concerned about any type of cancer, including liver cancer, see your doctor or other health care provider. If you do have signs of liver cancer, your doctor can help you see a liver cancer specialist such as the experts at OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. Because most people who get liver cancer already have a liver disease, see the list above for some signs of liver disease.

Symptoms of liver cancer

Liver cancer does not usually cause symptoms. Most people who get liver cancer already have liver disease and related symptoms.

Symptoms of possible liver cancer may include stomach pain, feeling full quickly when you eat, or losing weight without trying. If you do not feel like eating normally, lose weight without trying or have a yellow color to your skin and eyes, contact your health care provider as soon as possible. Other symptoms of liver disease can include itching, muscle cramps and feeling very tired or weak.

How is liver cancer treated?

Treatment for liver cancer can be complicated. Most people do best when they work with a team of liver disease experts. At the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, our Liver Cancer Clinic focuses on hepatocellular cancer (liver cancer). We provide a variety of specialized and advanced treatment options such as interventional radiology, liver resection surgery, liver transplant, hepatic artery infusion, medical therapy and radiation therapy.