Cancer and Tumours

There are two types of liver cancer: primary and secondary.

​Primary Liver Cancer

​Approximately 3,500 cases of primary liver cancer are diagnosed in the UK each year and although it is not known what causes it there are certain "risk factors" that have been identified, including: liver cirrhosis, chronic Hepatitis B or C, diabetes, smoking, and a family history of the disease.

The most common type of primary liver cancer is Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC) or Hepatoma, which accounts for 85% of these cancers.  This develops in the main liver cells and is most common in patients with liver cirrhosis. Other primary liver cancers include: cholangiocarcinoma, angiosarcoma/haemangiosarcoma, and hepatoblastoma.

Symptoms of primary liver cancer include unexplained weight loss, reduced appetite, a bloated feeling and swollen tummy with associated pain, high temperature, itching, jaundice, and a general feeling of sickness.

A physical examination will first be made by your doctor to investigate whether you experience any tenderness in your liver area.  A blood test will also be taken and a liver ultrasound, CT scan of your tummy, MRI scan, liver biopsy and laparoscopic investigation of your liver may be required.

Primary liver cancer has four main stages and treatment depends on the stage that you are at.  If it is diagnosed early it may be possible to treat it, and treatment options include: removal of the infected tissue, liver transplant, or radiofrequency ablation. For inoperable tumours non-surgical options can include: injections of ethanol to dehydrate the cancer cells, embolisation and chemoembolisation which cut off the blood supply to the tumour to stop its growth.

​Secondary liver cancer

​Most liver cancers in the UK are secondary. This is when the cancer has started somewhere else in the body and the cancer cells have travelled to the liver through the bloodstream. Because of this, symptoms may not develop for a long time and may only be discovered by other routine tests. However, some people do show symptoms, which include: weight loss, reduced appetite, nausea, fatigue, high temperature, feeling shivery, swollen tummy and jaundice.

As with primary liver cancer a physical examination will first be required and your doctor may also request a liver ultrasound, CT scan of your tummy, MRI scan, liver biopsy and laparoscopic investigation of your liver.

Treatment for this cancer depends on where the cancer has spread from, the parts of the liver affected, and whether other organs are also affected. The main form of treatment is chemotherapy and surgery may also be possible if the cancer has spread from the bowel.