Liver Cancer

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.

  • What is Liver Cancer?

    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.

    • Hepatocellular carcinoma: This liver cancer type starts in the main cells of the liver. It is the most common type of liver cancer. This type of cancer occurs more often in men than women and is usually seen in people aged 50 or older.
    • Cholangiocarcinoma (Bile Duct Cancer): Arises from the tissues in the bile duct, which is a 4-inch to 5-inch long tube that connects the liver and gallbladder to the small intestine. Primary cholangiocarcinoma is a rare disease.

    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.

  • Liver Cancer Risk Factors

    There are a number of risk factors when it comes to liver cancer. These risk factors include: 

    • Heavy alcohol consumption 
    • Chronic infection with Hep B or hep C
    • Cirrhosis 
    • Type 2 diabetes 
    • Non alcoholic fatty liver disease 
    • Obesity 
    • Tobacco use 
    • Age – liver cancer is more common in older people over the age of 60 
    • Family history
  • Liver Cancer Signs and Symptoms

    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:

    • A feeling of discomfort on the upper right side of the abdomen
    • A hard lump on the right side of the abdomen, below the rib cage
    • Pain in the upper back, around the right shoulder blade
    • Unexplained weight loss
    • Jaundice – a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
    • Unusual tiredness
    • Loss of appetite and/or nausea.

    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.

  • Liver Cancer Prevention

    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.

  • How to Test For Liver Cancer

    If liver cancer is suspected, a number of tests can be performed to provide a diagnosis. Some of the more common tests include:

    • A physical examination.
    • Examination of a blood sample.
    • Imaging/scanning of the liver and nearby organs.
    • Examination of the inside of the abdomen using a laparoscope (a thin tube with a light on the end).
    • Examination of a tissue sample (biopsy) from the liver.

    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.

  • Is Liver Cancer Curable

    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.

  • Liver Cancer Treatment

    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.

Cancer Statistics

  • 2,215

    new cases are estimated to be diagnosed in 2018

  • 17.3%

    is the five-year relative survival rate for liver cancer

  • 67.2

    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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