Skip to main content

Liver Cancer

< Digestive Tract Cancer

Liver Cancer

About Liver Cancer

Adult primary liver cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the liver.

The liver is one of the largest organs in the body. It has four lobes and fills the upper right side of the abdomen inside the rib cage. Three of the many important functions of the liver are:

  • To filter harmful substances from the blood so they can be passed from the body in stools and urine.
  • To make bile to help digest fat that comes from food.
  • To store glycogen (sugar), which the body uses for energy.

There are two types of adult primary liver cancer. The two types of adult primary liver cancer are:

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma.
  • Cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer).

The most common type of adult primary liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma. This type of liver cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide.


Signs and symptoms of adult primary liver cancer include a lump or pain on the right side.

These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by adult primary liver cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • A hard lump on the right side just below the rib cage.
  • Discomfort in the upper abdomen on the right side.
  • A swollen abdomen.
  • Pain near the right shoulder blade or in the back.
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).
  • Easy bruising or bleeding.
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Loss of appetite or feelings of fullness after eating a small meal.
  • Weight loss for no known reason.
  • Pale, chalky bowel movements and dark urine.
  • Fever.

Risk Factors

Having hepatitis or cirrhosis can affect the risk of adult primary liver cancer.

The following are risk factors for adult primary liver cancer:

  • Having hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Having both hepatitis B and hepatitis C increases the risk even more.
  • Having cirrhosis, which can be caused by:
  • hepatitis (especially hepatitis C); or
  • drinking large amounts of alcohol for many years or being an alcoholic.
  • Having metabolic syndrome, a set of conditions that occur together, including extra fat around the abdomen, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high levels of triglycerides and low levels of high-density lipoproteins in the blood.
  • Having liver injury that is long-lasting, especially if it leads to cirrhosis.
  • Having hemochromatosis, a condition in which the body takes up and stores more iron than it needs. The extra iron is stored in the liver, heart, and pancreas
  • Eating foods tainted with aflatoxin (poison from a fungus that can grow on foods, such as grains and nuts, that have not been stored properly).