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Adult Primary Liver Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI] - General Information About Adult Primary Liver Cancer

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. The liver has many important functions, including:

  • Filtering harmful substances from the blood so they can be passed from the body in stools and urine.
  • Making bile to help digest fats from food.
  • Storing glycogen (sugar), which the body uses for energy.

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Anatomy of the liver. The liver is in the upper abdomen near the stomach, intestines, gallbladder, and pancreas. The liver has four lobes. Two lobes are on the front and two small lobes (not shown) are on the back of the liver.

This summary refers to the treatment of primary liver cancer (cancer that begins in the liver). Treatment of metastatic liver cancer, which is cancer that begins in other parts of the body and spreads to the liver, is not discussed in this summary. Primary liver cancer can occur in both adults and children. Treatment for children, however, is different than treatment for adults. (See the PDQ summary on Childhood Liver Cancer Treatment for more information.)

Having hepatitis or cirrhosis can affect the risk of developing adult primary liver cancer.

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. People who think they may be at risk should discuss this with their doctor. The following are possible risk factors for adult primary liver cancer:

  • Having hepatitis B and/or hepatitis C.
  • Having a close relative with both hepatitis B and liver cancer.
  • Having cirrhosis.
  • Eating foods tainted with aflatoxin (poison from a fungus that can grow on foods, such as grains and nuts, that have not been stored properly).
  • Obesity.

Possible signs of adult primary liver cancer include a lump or pain on the right side.

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