Liver cancer often ‘secondary,’ spread from another part of body
When cancer cells form in the liver, this is called primary liver cancer. The most common type of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). In the United States, however, most “liver cancer” is secondary or metastatic, meaning it started somewhere else and then spread to the liver.
The liver sits on the right side of the body just under the ribs. It is the largest internal organ and it is responsible for flushing out toxins and waste from the blood and also for storing nutrients needed for bodily function. All blood from our body passes through the liver, which also makes the liver more exposed to cancer cells coming from other areas of the body.
People who are most at risk for liver cancer include:
- People with chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C
- People who have cirrhosis
- People who are obese
- People with type 2 diabetes
- People with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
A person with liver cancer may be unaware of having the condition until the later stages of disease. However, a person with known risk factors may already be getting care from a doctor who can keep an eye out for signs of disease.
Symptoms of liver cancer include:
- Feeling full even after a small meal
- Having a mass under the right ribs
- Unexplained itching
- Jaundice (yellowing of eyes or skin)
- Swollen abdomen
If you have risk factors for liver cancer or you have concerns about your symptoms, be sure to see a doctor. Your doctor will review your medical history and perform a physical examination before recommending certain tests, such as blood testing, CT scan, MRI and liver biopsy.
If you are diagnosed with liver cancer, your doctor can discuss your treatment options with you. Common treatment approaches include surgery, tumor ablation, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted therapy.