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Stage Information for Adult Primary Liver Cancer

    Note: The American Joint Committee on Cancer has recently published a new edition of the AJCC Cancer Staging Manual, which includes revisions to the staging for this disease. The PDQ Adult Treatment Editorial Board, which is responsible for maintaining this summary, is currently reviewing the new staging to determine the changes that need to be made in the summary. In addition to updating this Stage Information section, additional changes may need to be made to other parts of this summary to ensure that it is up-to-date. The changes will be made as soon as possible.

    TNM Definitions

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    Primary tumor (T)

    • TX: Primary tumor cannot be assessed
    • T0: No evidence of primary tumor
    • T1: Solitary tumor without vascular invasion
    • T2: Solitary tumor with vascular invasion or multiple tumors none more than 5 cm
    • T3: Multiple tumors more than 5 cm or tumor involving a major branch of the portal or hepatic vein(s)
    • T4: Tumor(s) with direct invasion of adjacent organs other than the gallbladder or with perforation of the visceral peritoneum

    Regional lymph nodes (N)

    • NX: Regional lymph nodes cannot be assessed
    • N0: No regional lymph node metastasis
    • N1: Regional lymph node metastasis

    The regional lymph nodes are the hilar (i.e., those in the hepatoduodenal ligament, hepatic, and periportal nodes). Regional lymph nodes also include those along the inferior vena cava, hepatic artery, and portal vein. Any lymph node involvement beyond these nodes is considered distant metastasis and should be coded as M1. Involvement of the inferior phrenic lymph nodes should also be considered M1.

    Distant metastasis (M)

    • MX: Distant metastasis cannot be assessed
    • M0: No distant metastasis
    • M1: Distant metastasis

    Metastases occur most frequently in bones and lungs. Tumors may extend through the capsule to adjacent organs (adrenal glands, diaphragm, and colon) or may rupture, causing acute hemorrhage and peritoneal carcinomatosis.

    The T classification is based on the results of multivariate analyses of factors affecting prognosis after resection of liver carcinomas. The classification considers the presence or absence of vascular invasion (as assessed radiographically or pathologically), the number of tumor nodules (single vs. multiple), and the size of the largest tumor (≤ 5 cm vs. > 5 cm). For pathologic classification, vascular invasion includes gross as well as microscopic involvement of vessels. Major vascular invasion (T3) is defined as invasion of the branches of the main portal vein (right or left portal vein; this does not include sectoral or segmental branches) or as invasion of one or more of the 3 hepatic veins (right, middle, or left). Multiple tumors include satellitosis, multifocal tumors, and intrahepatic metastases. Invasion of adjacent organs other than the gallbladder or with perforation of the visceral peritoneum is considered T4.


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