According to the American Cancer Society, more than 22,600 cases of primary liver cancer were diagnosed in the United States in 2009. Liver cancer is one of most rapidly increasing types of cancer in the U.S., and it is more common in men than in women. It also is more prevalent in developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia than in the U.S.
Liver is Essential
The largest organ in the body, the liver is pyramid-shaped and located under your right ribs. It has two sections called lobes. It is different from most organs because it has two blood sources:
- The hepatic artery brings in oxygen-rich blood
- The portal vein supplies nutrient-rich blood from the intestines
The liver is vital. You can’t live without it. Some of its important functions are to:
- Break down and store nutrients from the intestine
- Manufacture some of the clotting factors your body needs to stop bleeding
- Make bile that helps the intestine absorb nutrients
- Help get rid of waste
Liver Cancer Types
Liver cancer can begin in the liver or other parts of the body. Primary liver cancer begins in the liver. Metastatic liver cancer starts somewhere else in the body and metastasizes (spreads) to the liver.
The liver is a common place where cancer spreads. Its large size and high blood flow make it a prime target for tumor cells moving through the bloodstream. Colorectal, breast and lung cancers are the most common sources of metastatic liver cancer.
The information in this section is about primary liver cancer. For information about cancer that has spread to the liver, see the section on the primary cancer.
Some tumors in the liver are benign (non-cancerous) but grow large and cause problems. Usually these can be removed by surgery.
The main types of primary liver cancer are:
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC): Most primary liver cancers are HCC. They begin in hepatocyte cells. Sometimes they begin as a single tumor; other times they start in multiple spots in the liver. The latter is more common in people with liver damage, such as cirrhosis, and is more prevalent in this country.
Fibrolamellar HCC is a rare subtype that often has a higher chance for successful treatment than other types of liver cancer.
Bile duct cancers (cholangiocarcinomas): One or two of every 10 cases of liver cancer start in the bile ducts, which are small tubes that carry bile to the gallbladder. They are treated in the same way as HCC.
Angiosarcomas and hemangiosarcomas begin in blood vessels in the liver. These fast-growing liver cancers usually are not diagnosed until they are in advanced stages.
Hepatoblastoma: A very rare type of liver cancer, this most often is found in children. The survival rate is more than 90% if the cancer is caught early.
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