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About Liver Cancer

Early signs of liver cancer can be easy to miss. At the Abramson Cancer Center, our renowned team of gastrointestinal (GI) cancer specialists has an expert understanding of liver cancer complexities. Learn about the basics of liver cancer and see how we work together to advance your care.

Liver Cancer Symptoms

Liver cancer typically doesn’t cause clear-cut symptoms, especially in early stages. Regular cancer screenings are recommended every six months to detect liver cancer as some people don’t notice any signs of early disease.

Liver cancer symptoms may include:

  • Stomach pains (sharp abdominal pains or a more general upset stomach feeling)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue (feeling overly tired for no apparent reason)
  • Bloating
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes that happens when your liver doesn’t work properly)

Types of Liver Cancer

Liver cancer is classified into two main types: primary and secondary. Primary liver cancer arises from cells inside the liver.

Secondary liver cancer is what doctors call cancer that spreads (metastasizes) to the liver after developing in another part of your body. In the US, secondary (or metastatic) liver cancer is much more common than primary liver cancer.

Primary Liver Cancer

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) makes up most primary liver cancers. HCC arises from cells in the liver called hepatocytes.

Less common types of primary liver cancer include:

  • Cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer), cancer that starts growing from bile ducts (tubes that carry substances in and out of the liver)
  • Hemangiosarcoma, a rare type of liver cancer that develops in the cells that make up blood vessels
  • Hepatoblastoma, a rare liver cancer that affects young children

Secondary (Metastatic) Liver Cancer

Any type of cancer can spread to the liver. Colon cancer and rectal cancer make up the majority of metastatic liver tumors. Doctors may also refer to secondary liver cancer as liver metastasis or stage 4 cancer in the liver

Liver Cancer Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases the likelihood that you’ll get cancer. Liver disease and unhealthy habits like excessive alcohol use can damage liver tissue over time. Damaged liver tissue has an increased chance of turning into cancer.

You can control some (but not all) liver cancer risk factors. Choosing not to smoke and maintaining a healthy weight are two ways to lower your chances of developing liver cancer.

Liver cancer risk factors include:

  • Cirrhosis (severe liver damage that leads to scarring inside the liver)
  • Chronic (long-term) hepatitis B or C infection
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Excess weight (obesity)
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Smoking

Why Choose Penn Medicine for Liver Cancer Care?

Our team has years of experience treating all types of liver cancer, including advanced and complex cases. The Abramson Cancer Center’s expansive reach and close collaboration with the Penn Transplant Institute enables us to provide comprehensive liver cancer diagnosis, treatment and support services at many Abramson Cancer Center locations.

When you come to us, you can expect:

  • Diagnostic precision: Penn doctors are experts at identifying rare and difficult-to-detect cancers. Liver cancer is one of the few cancers that can be diagnosed without a biopsy, where our experienced radiologists are highly skilled in performing the proper scans to accurately identify liver cancer. Meet our GI cancer specialists.
  • Extraordinary surgical skill Our team includes fellowship-trained liver surgeons who are well-known around the world for their skill. They perform a high volume of surgeries to remove even the most complex cancers that other centers consider inoperable.
  • Intensive collaboration: Effective liver cancer treatment requires input from several specialists. Multiple experts personalize care based on your diagnosis and your needs. Your care team may include surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, hepatologists and others, such as our liver transplant team.
  • Advanced treatments: You’ll have access to specialized liver cancer treatments, such as proton therapy, hepatic artery infusion pumps, and liver transplants which aren’t available at most centers in the area.
  • Prompt attention: Our knowledgeable oncology and transplant navigators help get you in front of the right specialist quickly. They also help you navigate the treatment process. Learn more about navigating liver cancer.
  • Access to clinical trials: Our robust clinical trial program helps us offer new and innovative treatment options for all types and stages of liver cancer. Find out about GI cancer clinical trials.

Request an Appointment

Call 215-615-5858 to speak with a cancer center representative who can guide you to the right liver cancer expert for your needs. You can also request an appointment online.