Liver Cancer: Symptoms, Types, Treatments

Liver Cancer: Symptoms, Types, Treatments

What is liver cancer?

Liver cancer occurs when abnormal cells form uncontrollably in its tissues. Primary cancer (also called hepatocarcinoma) is a cancer that starts in liver cells (called hepatocytes). Secondary or metastatic cancer comes from cancer that first formed in the body before spreading through the bloodstream.

The growth of abnormal cells can cause the formation of a benign or malignant tumor. A benign tumor does not threaten to spread to the rest of the body and can be removed without risk of complications. On the other hand, a malignant tumor must be treated because it can spread and pose a threat to survival.

Located on the right side of the abdomen, under the diaphragm and to the right of the stomach, the liver is one of the largest organs. Its functions are multiple and important:

It filters the toxins absorbed by the body.

It stores and transforms the nutrients absorbed by the intestines.

It makes proteins that help to coagulate blood.

It produces bile that allows the body to absorb fat and cholesterol.

It helps to regulate glucose (glucose) and some hormones.

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Symptoms of liver cancer

At the onset of the disease, liver cancer very rarely triggers specific and obvious symptoms. It is therefore difficult to diagnose the disease at an early stage. This cancer is more often detected when it reaches an advanced stage. At this point, it can manifest itself by the following symptoms:

unexplained weight loss

loss of appetite

pains in the abdomen;

nausea and vomiting

general fatigue

the appearance of a mass in the region of the liver;

jaundice (complexion and yellow eyes, pale stools and dark urine).

Be careful, these symptoms do not necessarily indicate the presence of a cancerous tumor. They may be signs of other more common health problems. If such symptoms occur, it is important to consult a doctor to ensure proper examinations and the cause, especially for those at risk.

People at risk

People with chronic hepatitis B or C

Patients with cirrhosis of the liver from any source;

Those who consume alcohol in excess.

People with diabetes

People suffering from obesity

People suffering from iron overload (hemochromatosis, genetic disease common in Brittany because of a mutation of a gene transmitted by Celtic ancestors);

People suffering from overload of fats in the liver, such as:

People with diabetes.

People suffering from obesity.

liver cancer

Risk factors of Liver Cancer

The viruses that cause hepatitis B and C (HBV and HCV), are the cause of most hepatocellular carcinomas, because they cause a "chronic" disease of the liver. The attacked cell regenerates, or heals, but in an abnormal form (fibrosis) and makes the bed of cancer. However, 10 to 30% of Hepatitis B-induced hepatocellular carcinomas develop in the absence of fibrosis or cirrhosis. Hepatitis A, on the other hand, is not a risk factor because it is an "acute" disease.

Cirrhosis of the liver is the other major cause of liver cancer. It is most often due to excessive consumption of alcohol, but can also occur as a result of chronic liver disease (chronic viral hepatitis, autoimmune disease, iron overload ...).

Aflatoxin, a toxin produced by a type of mold that forms on improperly stored agricultural products, is a carcinogen that can contribute to the development of a liver tumor.

Vinyl chloride, used in the manufacture of certain plastics, is recognized as a carcinogen that can cause hepatoma.

Arsenic, used to treat wood, as a pesticide or in certain metal alloys, is a poison that can trigger the formation of a tumor in the liver.

Types of Liver Cancer

The most common form of primary liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma that is formed from liver cells (hepatocytes).

There are other, less common forms of liver cancer, such as the cholangiocarcinoma that affects the duct that leads the bile produced by the liver to the gall bladder; or angiosarcoma, very rare, from the lining of the blood vessels of the liver.

This card only deals with hepatocellular carcinoma.


It is the 5th most common cancer in the world. In Canada, liver cancer is relatively rare and accounts for less than 1% of all cancer deaths and deaths.

The regions with the highest incidence of liver cancer are the areas where hepatitis C virus infection is important, such as in Asia, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe. Hepatitis B virus infection is thought to be involved in 50 to 80% of hepatocellular carcinomas.

liver cancer

Please if you have any questions about liver cancer, you can ask us by commenting below this text, we'll answer you as soon as possible.

Liver cancer treatments

If you have liver cancer, your healthcare team will develop a treatment plan specifically for you. This plan will be based on your health status and information specific to cancer. When your healthcare team decides what treatments to offer you for liver cancer, it takes the following into consideration:

the stage of cancer

liver function (liver function)

the degree of scarring of the liver (cirrhosis)

if the cancer can be completely removed by surgery or not

your overall health

You may be offered one or a combination of the following treatments for liver cancer. Since liver cancer is often diagnosed in advanced stages, treatment options may be limited.


Depending on the stage of liver cancer, one of the following types of surgery could be performed.

Resection of the liver, or partial hepatectomy, removes the tumor and a margin of healthy tissue all around. It is the main treatment when there is only one tumor, the tumor is less than 2 cm and the cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes or blood vessels of the liver. In addition, it is proposed only if the tests show that the liver is healthy enough to function normally after surgery and that there is no increase in pressure in the portal vein.

Liver transplantation is the main treatment for people with severe cirrhosis whose remaining part of the liver would not function normally after surgery to remove the tumor. However, the cancer must not have spread outside the liver to other parts of the bodyTransarterial chemoembolization (TACE)

Trans arterial chemoembolization (TACE) is used to reduce the size and control of liver tumors. This treatment consists of blocking the blood supply of the liver tumor and administering chemotherapy directly into the tumor.

TACE is proposed when the tumor cannot be treated with surgery and the cancer has not spread to the main blood vessels of the liver, lymph nodes or other parts of the body. It is only considered if the liver function is good, no liquid has accumulated in the abdomen (ascites) and no problem affects the main vein of the liver (called portal vein).


Ablation destroys cancer cells in the liver while trying to damage as little of the nearby liver tissue as possible. Ablation is offered to people with liver cancer who cannot get surgery.

Radiofrequency ablation (RF) uses high frequency electrical current to release heat that will destroy cancer cells. This is the type of ablation that is most often used to treat liver cancer. ARF is most effective when liver tumors are no more than 2.5 cm in size and when there are no more than 3.

Percutaneous Ethanol Injection (PEI) is a treatment that involves injecting concentrated alcohol (ethanol) into a liver tumor with a needle. It is most effective when tumors measure less than 2 cm.

Targeted treatment

Targeted treatment involves using drugs to target specific molecules (such as proteins) on the surface of cancer cells. These molecules help send signals that tell the cells to grow or divide. By targeting these molecules, drugs stop the growth and spread of cancer cells while limiting damage to normal cells. Targeted therapy is used to treat advanced liver cancer when the person cannot have surgery or the cancer is no longer responding to other treatments.


External radiotherapy may be used to treat liver cancer that has spread to the bones. Learn more about bone metastases.

If you cannot or do not want to receive treatment

You may want to consider care that is designed to make you feel better rather than treat the cancer itself, perhaps because cancer treatments no longer work, and are no longer likely to improve your cancer. condition or that their side effects are difficult to tolerate. Other reasons may explain why you cannot or do not want to receive cancer treatment.

Discuss with members of your care team. They can help you choose care and treatment for advanced cancer.


Post-treatment follow-up is an important component of caring for people with cancer. You will need regular follow-up visits, especially during the first two years after the end of treatment. These visits will allow the care team to monitor your progress and find out how you are recovering from the treatment. People who have had a liver transplant will be followed by the transplant team.

Clinical tests

Some clinical trials on liver cancer are underway in Canada and accept participants. Clinical trials aim to find better ways to prevent, detect and treat cancer. Learn more about clinical trials

Questions to ask about treatment

In order to make the right decisions for you, ask questions about treatment to your healthcare team.

liver cancer

Please if you have any questions about liver cancer, you can ask us by commenting below this text, we'll answer you as soon as possible.

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