Primary liver cancer – or cancer that starts in the liver – is a disease that is often found in people in their 60s and 70s, particularly those who have experienced chronic liver conditions, such as hepatitis C. It is less common than secondary liver cancer (liver metastases), which occurs when cancer spreads to the liver from another part of the body.
Your liver cancer care team at Miami Cancer Institute is part of an integrated, multidisciplinary practice where specialists can collaborate and provide comprehensive care, all under one roof. Our liver cancer team is world-renowned in their field and is on the cutting edge of treatment technology.
We are dedicated to caring for the whole patient throughout the cancer journey; from diagnosis, to treatment, to post-cancer life. Each individualized cancer care plan includes innovative treatments as well as services to address your whole journey as a patient, including nutritional advice, physical rehabilitation and pain management services. Not only do we strive to find the treatment that is right for your cancer, we also want to develop the treatment that is right for you as a patient.
What is liver cancer?
Liver cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells form in the liver.
The liver is an organ that helps your body break down and store nutrients found in your blood. It also creates proteins that help stop wounds from bleeding, removes waste from the body, and creates a fluid (bile) that helps your body digest food (bile). It is located below your right lung.
What are the types of primary liver cancer?
There are several types of primary liver cancer, including:
- Hepatocellular carcinoma — this is the most common form of liver cancer. It starts in the hepatocytes, which are cells in the liver that help process nutrients in the blood. Hepatocellular carcinomas often start as a small tumor that grows larger or spreads to other parts of the body.
- Cholangiocarcinoma — this type of cancer begins in the bile ducts, which are tubes that carry bile from the liver to the intestine. It is the second most common form of liver cancer.
- Angiosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma — these cancers start in the cells of the liver’s blood vessels.
- Fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma — this is a rare form of hepatocellular carcinoma that is less aggressive than other types of liver cancer.
What are the risk factors for liver cancer?
The most common risk factor for liver cancer is long-term (chronic) infection with hepatitis B or hepatitis C viruses. These viruses can lead to scarring of your liver – known as cirrhosis. You can become infected with hepatitis B or hepatitis C by coming in physical contact with the bodily fluids or blood of an infected person, such as through unprotected sex or unsterilized needles.
Other risk factors for liver cancer can include:
- Having cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
- Having type 2 diabetes
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Being obese
- Having non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), also known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis
- Having an inherited (genetic) liver disease, such as hemochromatosis
- Being exposed to arsenic or aflatoxin
- Taking too much male hormone or anabolic steroids
What can you do to prevent liver cancer?
There is no guaranteed way to prevent cancer. However, there are ways you can lower your risk for disease.
Because the primary risk factor for liver cancer is infection with hepatitis B or hepatitis C viruses, avoiding these infections can reduce your risk for developing the disease. You can avoid infection with these viruses by:
- Practicing safe sex, such as using condoms and limiting sexual partners.
- Not using illicit drugs or sharing needles.
- Receiving the hepatitis B vaccine.
Other ways to lower your risk for liver cancer include:
- Exercising regularly.
- Eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy. Talk with your doctor or a nutritionist about what you should include in a healthy diet.
- Keeping a healthy weight. Ask your doctor what a healthy weight is for you.
- Asking your doctor about genetic testing and screening recommendations if you have an inherited disease that increases your risk for liver cancer.
- Talking to your doctor about liver cancer screening if you have a disease, such as cirrhosis, that increases your risk.
- Not using tobacco. Speak with your doctor if you need help quitting.
- Limiting exposure to chemicals including arsenic and aflatoxins.
Is liver cancer screening available?
If you have certain diseases that increase your risk for developing liver cancer – such as chronic liver disease, hepatitis infection or cirrhosis – our care team can work with you to develop a screening plan to check for disease. These screenings generally involve imaging tests, such as an ultrasound.