Note: The information on cancer types on the ACRF website is not designed to provide medical or professional advice and is for information only. If you have any health problems or questions please consult your doctor.
Liver cancer occurs when abnormal cells within the liver grow in an uncontrolled way.
There are two main types of liver cancer which are named after the part of the liver the cancer first develops in.
Liver cancer can either be primary or metastatic. Metastatic liver cancer is much more common than primary liver cancer in Australia. It occurs when cancer cells travelling through the blood from other gastrointestinal organs, like the colon or stomach, become lodged in the liver and become tumorous. These cancer cells can also spread in the lymphatic system.
Primary liver cancers, which are rarer in Western countries, begin in the liver. Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common type.
People with cirrhosis of the liver, or those who have been infected with a hepatitis virus have a higher risk of getting primary liver cancer.
There are a number of risk factors when it comes to liver cancer. These risk factors include:
Signs and symptoms of liver cancer often don’t show up until the cancer later stages of the disease, once the cancer is more advanced. Signs and symptoms of liver cancer can include:
It is important to note that there are a number of conditions that may cause these symptoms, not just liver cancer. If any of these symptoms are experienced, it is important to discuss them with your GP.
You can lower your risk of getting liver cancer by living a healthy lifestyle. This means engaging in regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, controlling your weight, limiting your consumption of alcohol and not smoking tobacco.
Another way to decrease your risk is to protect yourself against hep B or hep C infection or if diagnosed to seek adequate treatment to prevent cirrhosis.
If liver cancer is suspected, a number of tests can be performed to provide a diagnosis. Some of the more common tests include:
If liver cancer is diagnosed, treatment options for liver cancer depend on the stage of the disease, the severity of symptoms and the person’s general health.
Liver cancer can be difficult to cure as often it is not caught in the early stage as signs and symptoms may not show up until later. If liver cancer is caught in its early stages, this then makes it easier to cure before the cancer spreads. Once liver cancer has been cured through treatment, it may come back so regular check ups are required.
Treatment options can include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and/or targeted therapies to destroy cancer cells.
The liver can be difficult to operate on because of its position near major blood vessels and the rib cage and the fact that it is large, dense and delicate.
However, in most instances the most effective treatment for liver cancer is surgical removal of the diseased section. A full liver transplant may only be considered if a patient has another liver disease, like cirrhosis – which can make the liver very weak. Surgery will also depend on the severity of the cancer.
Image guided procedures, for instance, may be performed through the skin without an incision to control the spread of cancer. These include ablation, where a chemical agent is used to destroy the cancer and embolisation, where the tumour’s blood supply is cut off.
Chemotherapy may be used after surgery to increase treatment success. Radiation therapy, however, is not used.
new cases are estimated to be diagnosed in 2018
is the five-year relative survival rate for liver cancer
years is the median age of diagnosis
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Cancer in Australia 2017, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
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