Liver Tumors and Liver Cancer
The liver is the largest internal organ. It breaks down and stores nutrients absorbed from the intestine, makes clotting factors to protect you from bleeding too much when you are cut, and breaks down alcohol, drugs, and toxic wastes in the blood. Liver tumors, also called hepatic tumors, are growths on or in the liver. Benign (non-cancerous) tumors sometimes grow large enough to cause health problems. Liver tumors that are malignant – growing into nearby tissue or spreading to other parts of the body – are liver cancer. There are many types of liver tumors and liver cancer.
Liver Tumor Overview and Symptoms
Benign Liver Tumors
- Hemangiomas: non-cancerous growths that form due to an abnormal collection of blood vessels
- Liver cysts: fluid-filled sacs that usually don’t show symptoms and require no treatment unless they grow large and cause discomfort
- Adenoma: a non-cancerous tumor that starts in tissues like skin or glands
- Focal nodules: benign liver tumors that mainly occur in women between ages 20 and 30
Liver Cancers (Malignant Tumors)
- Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC): a type of liver cancer that occurs more often in men and is usually diagnosed in people age 50 or older
- Cholangiocarcinoma: a rare cancer that affects the bile ducts
- Gallbladder carcinoma: a a rare cancer that starts in the gallbladder
- Hepatoblastoma, a malignant liver tumor that mostly occurs in children less than five years of age, although it has been diagnosed in older children and adults
Liver Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis
Liver tumor and liver cancer symptoms may include:
- Pain in the upper abdomen
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal swelling
- Yellow skin (jaundice)
- White, chalky stools
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- General weakness or fatigue
In order to diagnose a liver tumor or liver cancer, your doctor may request these tests:
- Blood tests – to help determine possible liver function abnormalities
- Imaging scans – these may include ultrasound, computed tomography (CT or CAT) scans, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Biopsy – the removal of a sample of liver tissue by inserting a thin needle through your skin and into your liver to obtain a tissue sample. A pathologist will view the sample under a microscope to look for cancer cells. Only through biopsy can doctors determine whether a liver tumor is benign or cancerous.
Liver Tumor Treatment
Treatment for liver tumors and liver cancer will vary depending on the stage and sub-type of your disease, and your personal circumstances and preferences. Both benign liver tumors and liver cancer may be treated through surgical and/or non-surgical treatment methods.
- Surgery – If your liver tumor is small and your liver function is strong, you may receive surgery to remove the liver tumor and a small amount of healthy liver tissue surrounding it.
- Cyberknife – a robotically controlled radiation delivery machine
- Liver transplant – In rare cases, if the tumor or cancer affects a significant portion of the liver and the entire liver needs to be removed, you may receive a liver transplant from a donor.
- New forms of highly targeted chemotherapy
- Chemoembolization – a procedure where cancer cells are targeted while healthy tissue is unharmed
- Radioembolization – tiny cancer fighting particles are delivered to the tumor through the blood stream to kill cancer cells
We also treat cancer that has metastasized to the liver. Metastases are cancer cells that have spread from an original or primary site to one or more locations or organs elsewhere in the body. The most common cancers that metastasize to the liver are lung, colon, pancreas, breast, stomach, ovarian, prostate, gallbladder and cervical.