Liver cancer is categorized as either primary or secondary.
Primary liver cancers start in the liver. The most common type in adults is hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), or malignant hepatoma. It forms when liver cells called hepatocytes grow uncontrollably. When this happens, cancerous, or malignant, tumors may form.
Children may develop hepatocellular carcinoma or hepatoblastoma, which are both forms of primary liver cancer. There are some unique risk factors and treatments for children with liver cancer. You can find more information about childhood liver cancer on the National Institute for Cancer’s website.
When liver cancer spreads, or metastasizes, outside of the liver, the cancer cells tend to spread to nearby lymph nodes, the bones, and the lungs. There, the cancerous liver cells create new tumors that have the same type of abnormal cells as the tumor or tumors in the liver.
For example, if liver cancer spreads to the lungs, a tumor that grows in the lung consists of liver cancer cells, not lung cancer cells. The disease is called metastatic liver cancer, or liver cancer with lung metastases, and is treated as liver cancer. Doctors sometimes refer to the new tumor as “distant” disease.
Learn more about primary liver cancer .
Secondary liver cancers are cancers that start in another part of the body, such as the breast, colon, or a lung, and spread to the liver. In this case, the cancer is metastatic, and is actually not referred to as liver cancer. For instance, breast cancer that spreads to the liver is called metastatic breast cancer. The cancer cells are breast cancer cells, and the disease is treated as breast cancer.
In the United States, secondary tumors in the liver are far more common than primary tumors.
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