Stages of Liver Cancer

If tests indicate you have liver cancer, the next step is to determine the stage, or extent, of the disease. Liver cancer staging is an attempt to determine the size of the tumor, whether the disease has spread, and if so, to which parts of your body. It is an important consideration as you and your doctor decide on the best treatment plan for you.

Other Ways to Stage

The TNM classification system, also created by the American Joint Committee on Cancer, uses a system of Ts, Ns, and Ms to describe the extent of disease. This system is typically used in conjunction with the AJCC and treatment staging systems.

The stage may be determined at the time of diagnosis, or you may need additional imaging tests, such as a CT scan, MRI, angiogram, or ultrasound. Your doctor may also use a laparoscope to look directly at your liver and nearby organs. These tests can help indicate whether the cancer has spread.

A common method of staging liver cancer is the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) system. This method uses Roman numerals I through IV to classify the extent of the disease, where stage I is the least advanced and stage IV is the most advanced.

Learn more about:

Stage I and II liver cancer

Stage I liver cancer

Stage I liver cancer means that there is only one tumor and that cancer cells have not spread beyond the liver to nearby blood vessels.

Stage II liver cancer

Stage II indicates either of the following:

  • There is only one tumor, but it has spread to blood vessels near the liver
  • There is more than one tumor, but none of them is larger than five centimeters, or about two inches, across

Stage III and IV liver cancer

Stage III liver cancer is classified as either Stage IIIA, Stage IIIB, or Stage IIIC.

Stage IIIA means one of the following:

  • There is more than one tumor in the liver larger than five centimeters, or about two inches, across
  • There is one tumor that has spread to a blood vessel close to the liver

Stage IIIB means one of the following :

  • One or more tumors (of any size) have spread to another organ, not including the gallbladder
  • One or more tumors (of any size) have breached the peritoneal cavity — a space bound by a thin layer of tissue in the abdomen that contains the liver, intestines, and stomach
Words to Know

The lymphatic system is the network of lymph nodes, tissues, and vessels that circulates lymph fluid, eliminates toxins, and produces immune cells throughout the body.

Stage IIIC means that cancerous cells have moved to nearby lymph nodes.

Stage IV liver cancer

Stage IV liver cancer, also called metastatic liver cancer, occurs when cancerous cells spread from the liver to near or distant areas of the body. The cancer may spread to other organs, such as the lungs or the breast, or to nearby lymph nodes or blood vessels.

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