Adult primary liver cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the liver. The liver is one of the largest organs in the body. It has four lobes and fills the upper right side of the abdomen inside the rib cage. Three of the many important functions of the liver are:

  • To filter harmful substances from the blood so they can be passed from the body in stools and urine.
  • To make bile to help digest fat that comes from food.
  • To store glycogen (sugar), which the body uses for energy.

There are two types of adult primary liver cancer:

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma, the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide
  • Cholangiocarcinoma (see What is Bile Duct Cancer?)

Signs & Symptoms

These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by adult primary liver cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • A hard lump on the right side just below the rib cage
  • Discomfort in the upper abdomen on the right side
  • A swollen abdomen
  • Pain near the right shoulder blade or in the back
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite or feelings of fullness after eating a small meal
  • Weight loss for no known reason
  • Pale, chalky bowel movements and dark urine
  • Fever


Your OHC doctor will help you determine the best care plan for you. Treatment of stages 0, A, and B adult primary liver cancer may include the following:

  • Surveillance for lesions smaller than 1 centimeter
  • Partial hepatectomy – Surgery to remove all or part of the liver
  • Total hepatectomy and liver transplant –
  • Ablation (the removal or destruction of a body part or tissue or its function) of the tumor using one of the following methods:
    • Radiofrequency ablation – A procedure that uses radio waves to heat and destroy abnormal cells. The radio waves travel through electrodes (small devices that carry electricity).
    • Microwave therapy – A type of treatment in which body tissue is exposed to high temperatures to damage and kill cancer cells or to make cancer cells more sensitive to the effects of radiation and certain anticancer drugs.
    • Percutaneous ethanol injection – An injection of ethanol (alcohol) through the skin directly into a tumor to kill cancer cells. Ultrasound or a CT scan is used to guide the needle into the tumor.
    • Cryoablation – A procedure in which an extremely cold liquid or an instrument called a cryoprobe is used to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue.
  • A clinical trial of electroporation therapy – Treatment that generates electrical pulses through an electrode placed in a tumor to enhance the ability of anticancer drugs to enter tumor cells.

Treatment of stages C and D adult primary liver cancer may include the following:

  • Embolization therapy using one of the following methods
    • Transarterial embolization (TAE) – A procedure in which the blood supply to a tumor or an abnormal area of tissue is blocked.
    • Transarterial chemoembolization (TACE) – A procedure in which the blood supply to a tumor is blocked after anticancer drugs are given in blood vessels near the tumor.
    • Targeted therapy – A type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific types of cancer cells with less harm to normal cells.
    • Radiation therapy – The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons, and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
    • A clinical trial of targeted therapy after chemoembolization or combined with chemotherapy
    • A clinical trial of new targeted therapy drugs
    • A clinical trial of targeted therapy with or without stereotactic body radiation therapy
    • A clinical trial of stereotactic body radiation therapy or proton-beam radiation therapy