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Cancer Health Center

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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. 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.

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.

There are two types of adult primary liver cancer.

The two types of adult primary liver cancer are:

The most common type of adult primary liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma.

This summary refers to the treatment of primary liver cancer (cancer that begins in the liver). Treatment of 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. However, treatment for children 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 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. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. The following are risk factors for adult primary liver cancer:

  • Having hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Having both hepatitis B and hepatitis C increases the risk even more.
  • Having cirrhosis, which can be caused by:
  • 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).
  • Having hemochromatosis, a condition in which the body takes up and stores more iron than it needs. The extra iron is stored in the liver, heart, and pancreas.
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