What is liver cancer?
Liver cancer is a type of cancer that originates in the cells of the liver. The liver is located in the upper right area of the abdomen, above the stomach and below the diaphragm. The liver continuously filters blood that circulates through the body, converting nutrients and drugs absorbed from the digestive tract into ready-to-use chemicals.
The liver can be affected by primary liver cancer, which arises in the liver, or by cancer which forms in other parts of the body and then spreads to the liver.
Diagnosis & Treatment Options
What are the signs and symptoms of liver cancer?
In the early stages, you may not have symptoms. In the later stages, you may have any of the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Weight loss without trying
- Nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite
- Abdominal swelling
- Yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes
How is liver cancer diagnosed?
- Blood tests: Blood tests can show signs of liver cancer and check the function of your liver.
- An ultrasound, CT, or MRI: These tests may show the location and size of the tumor. You may be given contrast liquid to help the tumor and blood vessels show up better. Tell your healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
- A biopsy: A biopsy is a procedure to remove a small piece of tissue from your liver to be tested for cancer.
How is liver cancer treated?
- Surgery: This may be done to remove tumors that are small and have not spread to other parts of the body.
- Medicines: Medicines may be used to reduce the size of the tumor. Medicine may also be used to reduce blood flow to the tumor or kill cancer cells. Your healthcare provider may also recommend you receive the HBV vaccine to prevent hepatitis B.
- Ablation or embolization: This may be done to treat the tumor or reduce blood flow to the tumor. These procedures involve using radio waves, lasers, or light, or injecting medicine near the tumor.
- Radiation therapy: This uses X-rays or gamma rays to treat cancer. Radiation kills cancer cells and may stop the cancer from spreading. It may also be used to shrink the tumor and decrease pain.
- A liver transplant: This surgery replaces your damaged liver with a donor liver.
Preparing For Care
What can I do to manage my liver cancer?
- Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol harms your liver. It can also make your symptoms worse.
- Do not smoke. Nicotine can damage blood vessels and make it more difficult to manage your liver cancer. Smoking also increases your risk for new or returning cancer and delays healing after treatment. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in place of cigarettes or to help you quit. They still contain nicotine. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help quitting.
- Drink liquids as directed. Too much or not enough liquid can cause swelling in your legs and abdomen. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
- Eat small meals throughout the day. You may not feel hungry, but it is important that you eat. Proper nutrition can give you more energy and help you feel better. A dietitian can help you find ways to get enough protein, calories, vitamins, and minerals. Ask if you need to limit sodium (salt).
- Exercise as directed. Exercise can help increase your energy level and appetite. Ask your healthcare provider how much exercise you need an which exercises are best for you.
Call 911 for any of the following:
- You feel lightheaded, short of breath, or have chest pain.
- You cough up or vomit blood.
- You are confused, or very drowsy and difficult to wake.
When should I contact my provider?
- You have a fever.
- You have increased weakness or fatigue.
- You have appetite loss or weight loss.
- You have increased abdominal pain or swelling.
- You vomit or cannot keep food or liquids down.
- You have increased jaundice or your urine is dark.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.