Pacific Cancer Programs

Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular carcinoma)

Liver Cancer Information for:


Program Managers and Coalition Members

The Community

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Your liver is the largest organ inside your body. It filters harmful substances from the blood, digests fats from food and stores the sugar that your body uses for energy. Primary liver cancer starts in the liver. Metastatic liver cancer starts somewhere else and spreads to your liver.

Risk factors for primary liver cancer include:

  • Having hepatitis
  • Having cirrhosis, or scarring of liver
  • Being male
  • Low weight at birth

Symptoms can include a lump or pain on the right side of your abdomen and yellowing of the skin. However, you may not have symptoms and the cancer may not be found until it is advanced. This makes it harder to treat. Treatment options include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or liver transplantation.

Definition of liver cancer: Primary liver cancer is cancer that forms in the tissues of the liver. Secondary liver cancer is cancer that spreads to the liver from another part of the body.

Most primary liver cancers begin in hepatocytes (liver cells). This type of cancer is called hepatocellular carcinoma or malignant hepatoma. Children may develop childhood hepatocellular carcinoma or hepatoblastoma.

When liver cancer spreads (metastasizes) outside the liver, the cancer cells tend to spread to nearby lymph nodes and to the bones and lungs. When this happens, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells as the primary tumor in the liver. For example, if liver cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are actually liver cancer cells. The disease is metastatic liver cancer, not bone cancer. It is treated as liver cancer, not bone cancer. Doctors sometimes call the new tumor "distant" disease.

Similarly, cancer that spreads to the liver from another part of the body is different from primary liver cancer. The cancer cells in the liver are like the cells in the original tumor. When cancer cells spread to the liver from another organ (such as the colon, lung, or breast), doctors may call the tumor in the liver a secondary tumor. In the United States, secondary tumors in the liver are far more common than primary tumors.

Online Tools

MedlinePlus - Liver Cancer Link - MedlinePlus will direct you to information to help answer health questions. MedlinePlus brings together authoritative information from NLM, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other government agencies and health-related organizations. MedlinePlus also has extensive information about drugs, an illustrated medical encyclopedia, interactive patient tutorials, and latest health news.

Liver Cancer Information

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) among others, provide many on-line cancer resources. Please make sure you visit their constantly updated websites, reflecting the latest scientific findings and visit the links for more information about cervical cancer.

National Cancer Institute (NCI)

NCI has up-to-date information for patients and practitioners about Liver cancer.

American Cancer Society (ACS)

ACS is the nationwide community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer, through research, education, advocacy, and service.

“What You Need To Know About™ Liver Cancer”

NCI’s booklet helps you to learn liver cancer symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and questions to ask your health care provider.

Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC)

SPC's Public Health Programme is dedicated to improving the health, and therefore the future, of all Pacific Islanders.

Healthy Pacific Lifestyle from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community's (SPC-HPLS)

American Liver Foundation (ALF)

ALF was created in 1976 by the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD). This organization of scientists and healthcare professionals was concerned with the rising incidence of liver disease and the lack of awareness among both the general public and the medical community. The mission, the programs and the services provided by ALF complement the great work of AASLD.

Printed Materials to Download

This section has pdf (Adobe Acrobat format) files of useful resources created by various agencies that can be downloaded directly from the website. The organization, year of publication and size of the pdf file are listed.

ASCO Answers: Liver Cancer

ASCO Answers is a series of fact sheets that provides an introduction to a specific type of cancer. Each fact sheet is a PDF that includes an overview of what the cancer is, an illustration of where the cancer starts, how it is treated, terms to know, and questions to ask the doctor.

  • Download the PDF file (American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2008. 2 pages): (pdf 275 KB).

Acknowledgment: This text is adapted from the NCI website.

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Funding for this website was made possible by a cooperative agreement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, through the following:
Pacific CEED, award #: 5U58DP000976,USAPI Community Health Interventions Project (CHIP), award #: 1U58DP005810,
Pacific Regional Central Cancer Registry, award #: 5U58DP003906; Regional Comprehensive Cancer Control Program, award #: U55/CCU923887.
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Funding Sources: PRCCR: #: 5U58DP003906  | Pacific REACH: #: 1U58DP005810 | RCCC: #: U55/CCU923887 

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