Primary liver cancer is cancer that forms in the tissues of the liver, while secondary liver cancer is cancer that has spread (metastasized) to the liver from another part of the body.
One of the largest organs in the body, the liver has four lobes and fills the upper right side of the abdomen inside the rib cage. Important functions of the liver are: to filter harmful substances from the blood so they can be passed in stools and urine, to make bile to help digest fat that comes from food and to store glycogen (sugar), which the body uses for energy.
Two main types of adult primary liver cancer are:
Less common types of primary liver cancer include mixed hepatocellular carcinoma and cholangiocarcinoma; angiosarcoma; and hemangioendothelioma.
Liver cancer was once thought to be untreatable. However, advances in medicine have resulted in new curative options. Our board certified surgeons offer a full range of state-of-the-art treatment modalities, including liver resection, cryoablation and radiofrequency ablation, using minimally invasive surgery technologies. Surgeons specializing in hepatobiliary diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) are the surgical team for the Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), a unique center uniting the world’s best GI cancer experts.
Factors that contribute to an increased risk for liver cancer include:
Symptoms associated with liver cancer include:
If you are having symptoms of liver cancer, your surgeon will ask about your health history, your family’s history of cancer and risk factors. Diagnostic tests may include:
After liver cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the liver or to other parts of the body. The process used to find out if cancer has spread is called staging.
With the result of diagnostic tests, your doctor will assign your cancer a stage, depending upon the size and spread of the cancer.
The Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer Staging System may be used to stage adult primary liver cancer. The BCLC staging system has five stages:
Removing the tumor surgically is the only way to cure liver cancer. Taking the whole tumor out will give you the best chance of survival. However, it can be hard to remove the whole tumor, even if it has not spread beyond the liver. Surgery may not be an option for people with cirrhosis who do not have enough healthy liver tissue. Surgery is not an option if the cancer has spread past the liver to other parts of the body. Surgeons at BWH are internationally recognized surgical specialists who are faculty at Harvard Medical School. They have years of experience in liver cancer surgery and offer many of the most progressive surgical procedures, including:
You will receive a thorough diagnostic examination to evaluate if you have liver cancer and determine what course of treatment is needed. Careful monitoring and the involvement of an experienced surgeon are important to the successful outcome for patients with liver cancer.
If you are having surgery or a procedure, you will likely be scheduled for a visit to the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation for pre-operative information and tests.
The day of surgery, you will be taken cared for in the operating room by surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in surgery for patients with liver cancer. After surgery, you will recover in the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by an experienced surgical and nursing staff.
The Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center provides the world’s most advanced and innovative multidisciplinary care for patients with gastrointestinal diseases, such as liver cancer. Our treatment team includes surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, nutritionists, pathologists, anesthesiologists and gastroenterologists. In addition, patients have full access to BWH’s world-renowned academic medical community with its diverse specialists and state-of-the-art facilities.
Contact one of our cancer surgeons in the list at the top of the page to make an appointment.
Learn more about liver cancer in our health library.
Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center for Patients and Families to access computers and knowledgeable staff.
Visit the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation.
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