What is liver cancer?

Liver cancer: Overview

Liver cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow out of control in the liver. Liver cancer can spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, bones, or the lymph nodes and tissues in the belly.

Treatment depends on what type of liver cancer you have and how far it has spread. You may need more than one kind of treatment, such as medicine, surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. In some cases, other treatments or a liver transplant may be needed.

If your cancer cannot be cured, the goal may be to remove or destroy as much of the tumor as possible. This can prevent cancer from growing, spreading, or returning for as long as possible.

Your medical team will work with you to help manage the treatment side effects. These can include feeling very tired, feeling sick to your stomach, or having a higher risk for infections.

What are the symptoms of liver cancer?

Liver cancer may not cause any symptoms. When it does, they may include pain in the upper belly or the back, a swollen belly, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), unintended weight loss, nausea, loss of appetite, feeling full after eating only a small amount, or weakness and fatigue.

How is liver cancer treated?

Treatment is based on the stage of the cancer and other things, such as your overall health. Treatment may include surgery, ablation, embolization, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. Other options may include targeted therapy or immunotherapy. In some cases, a liver transplant may be needed.

How is liver cancer diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask questions about your health. You may have blood tests and imaging tests, such as a CT scan or MRI. Sometimes, a small sample (biopsy) of the liver may be removed to confirm the diagnosis.

How can you care for yourself when you have liver cancer?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you have any problems with your medicine.
  • Eat healthy food. If you do not feel like eating, try to eat food that has protein and extra calories to keep up your strength and prevent weight loss.
  • Get some physical activity every day, but do not get too tired.
  • Get enough sleep and take time to do things you enjoy. This can help reduce stress.
  • Think about joining a support group. Or discuss your concerns with your doctor, counselor, or other health professional.
  • If you are vomiting or have diarrhea:
    • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Choose water and other clear liquids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
    • When you are able to eat, try clear soups, mild foods, and liquids until all symptoms are gone for 12 to 48 hours. Other good choices include dry toast, crackers, cooked cereal, and gelatin dessert, such as Jell-O.
  • If you have not already done so, prepare a list of advance directives. Advance directives are instructions to your doctor and family members about what kind of care you want if you become unable to speak or express yourself.

What is liver cancer?

Liver cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the liver. Liver cancer may spread to nearby tissues or to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or bones. The most common type of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma.

Liver cancer: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You vomit blood or what looks like coffee grounds.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have any abnormal bleeding, such as:
    • Nosebleeds.
    • Bloody or black stools, or rectal bleeding.
  • You have a fever.
  • You feel very sleepy or confused.
  • You have new or worse belly pain.
  • There is a new or increasing yellow tint to your skin or the whites of your eyes.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have any problems.
  • You are gaining weight.
  • Your belly is getting bigger.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.