About Liver Cancer

The liver, located in the upper abdomen, produces enzymes and bile needed to digest food.

The largest organ inside the body, your liver does important and critical work of filtering harmful substances from the blood, producing enzymes and bile needed to digest food, and converts the food you eat into substances necessary for growth and life. Most primary liver cancers begin in hepatocytes (the types of cells that make up most of the liver). The most common primary liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma or malignant hepatoma, begins in these cells.

Several other cancer types that begin elsewhere in the body — most commonly cancers of the lung, colon and breast — may spread or metastasize to the liver. When this occurs, the liver tumors are not actually liver cancer, but are the original cancer type, such as metastatic colon cancer. Roswell Park’s experts treat both types of liver tumors.

Although primary liver cancer is considered rare in the United States, with an estimated 24,600 men and 8,590 women expected to be diagnosed in 2014, it is the third leading cause of death worldwide. The incidence of this cancer is rising in the U.S., with an expected 50 percent increase in the number of patients succumbing to this disease over the next two decades.

Anatomy of the Liver

The liver is in the upper abdomen near the stomach, intestines, gallbladder, and pancreas. The liver has four lobes. Two lobes are on the front and two small lobes are on the back of the liver.

Symptoms of Liver Cancer

Like many cancers, liver cancer doesn’t cause symptoms until later stages. Some symptoms may include:

  • Pain, lump or feeling of heaviness in upper abdomen
  • Swollen or bloated abdomen
  • Loss of appetite, feeling full
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Feeling weak, tired
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Yellow skin and eyes
  • Pale stools and/or dark urine
  • Fever

Other health problems that are not cancer may cause these symptoms, too. If you notice these symptoms, talk to your physician.