Primary Liver Cancers

There are a number of different tumors that can develop in the liver. While some are benign, which means they are not cancerous, others are malignant, which means the opposite.

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Benign tumors

Benign tumors are generally not harmful, although they can cause problems in some cases. If necessary, your doctor can remove the tumor through surgery.

Hemangioma is the most common benign tumor of the liver. It grows in the blood vessels. Unless the tumor begins to bleed, it generally does not need to be treated as most hemangiomas do not cause symptoms.

Hepatic adenoma is a tumor that starts in the hepatocytes, the main type of liver cell. Though this tumor generally does not cause symptoms, in some cases it can cause stomach pain, create a mass in the abdomen, or induce blood loss. In these instances, your doctor may remove the tumor through surgery. Women who take birth control pills may be at a greater risk for developing hepatic adenoma.

Focal nodular hyperplasia (FNH) is a tumor composed of different liver cell types. Though it is generally harmless, it can sometimes cause pain in the abdomen or begin to grow rapidly. In instances where FNH causes symptoms, it may be removed through surgery.

Liver cysts are small, fluid-filled sacs that do not generally require treatment or cause any symptoms. However, if the cysts become too large, they can cause abdominal pain and can be removed. In very rare cases, cysts can be a sign of a more serious problem.

Malignant tumors

The vast majority of liver cancers begin in the hepatocytes, the primary kind of liver cell. Other forms, which are more rare, begin in other types of liver cells.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of liver cancer, accounting for about three out of every four liver cancer diagnoses. HCC always begins in the hepatocytes, but it can form and grow in different ways.

For instance, the growth pattern most common in the US is for many small tumors to form within the liver. This typically occurs in people who have cirrhosis, a disease that causes scarring of the liver. In other cases, just a single tumor may grow, becoming large before spreading to other parts of the liver.

Words to Know

Prognosis is a prediction of the outcome of a disease.

A very rare form of HCC is known as fibrolamellar carcinoma, which tends to affect women more than men and typically develops between the ages of 20 and 40. Fibrolamellar carcinoma usually has a better prognosis than the more common form of HCC.

Cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer) occurs in the bile duct — branching tubes that carry bile produced in the liver to the gallbladder — of the liver. This type of cancer is the second most common form of liver cancer and accounts for about one or two out of every 10 liver cancer diagnoses. Bile duct cancer is generally treated in the same way as HCC.

Angiosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma are very rare liver cancers. They begin in the blood vessels of the liver, and tend to grow very quickly. These cancers are rarely found early before they have spread, and are therefore difficult to treat effectively — although there are treatments that can be used to slow their growth.

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