About 39.5% of American men and women will be diagnosed with some kind of cancer in their lifetimes. So what is liver cancer? Liver cancer—a rarer form of cancer—affects about 9 out of 100,000 Americans.1 While liver cancer isn’t the most common, it’s well-studied and has been classified into five types: hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), fibrolamellar HCC, cholangiocarcinoma, liver angiosarcoma, and secondary liver cancer. 

Liver cancer symptoms often don’t appear until later stages in development. Because of this, knowing the risk factors and your family history will lend assistance to early diagnosis. 

To understand how liver cancer works, let’s first break down what the liver does and the risk factors involved in this form of cancer. 

Your Liver and You

Your liver is one of the largest organs in your body, weighing about 3 pounds.2 Located in the upper-right portion of the abdomen, this football-sized powerhouse is responsible for:

  • Converting nutrients from food into energy sources the body can use and then storing them
  • Supplying bile to the digestion process 
  • Filtering toxins and either converting them to harmless substances or ensuring they are expelled

The liver has a big job, and it plays an integral role in balancing the body’s metabolism. That’s why liver cancer is so debilitating; it keeps this vital organ from protecting and nourishing the body.

Risk Factors for Liver Cancer

Liver cancer develops when the DNA of a liver cell is damaged and the genes inside cause the faulty cell to reproduce rapidly. The cancer cells continue to reproduce and, if undiscovered, will eventually form a tumor or spread to other parts of the liver, then the rest of the body. The progression of cancer and its severity of liver damage is measured by stages (more on that later).

Factors that increase the risk of developing liver cancer are:

  • Gender – Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is more prevalent in men than in women, but that could be due to behaviors surrounding other risk factors (e.g. men are two times more likely to binge drink than women).3 However, fibrolamellar HCC is more common in women.
  • Heavy alcohol consumption – Alcohol is processed by the liver and filtered into the bloodstream. Because the liver can only filter so much alcohol at once, drinking more than what the liver can handle causes inebriation. But overloading the liver damages it, and in order to repair itself, it forms scar tissue. Too much damage (like from chronic alcoholism) can lead to advanced cirrhosis and greatly increase liver cancer risk.
  • Cirrhosis – This disease occurs when liver cells become damaged, and the liver develops scar tissue. When the liver is injured (in this case, usually by chronic alcohol use or hepatitis), it repairs itself by forming scar tissue. Unfortunately, the scar tissue doesn’t function the way the rest of the liver does, so the liver has to work harder. Cirrhosis generally doesn’t show any signs until the damage is extensive.
  • Chronic viral hepatitis – The most common risk factor for liver cancer is long-term hepatitis B (HBV) or hepatitis C (HCV) infection.4 These viral infections can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, which further increases the risk of liver cancer. While HBV usually shows symptoms, it’s unlikely to become chronic. HCV, on the other hand, manifests few symptoms in people but it’s almost always chronic.

While knowing these factors may help you identify your likelihood of developing cancer, only a medical professional can say for sure. If you think you may be at risk for liver cancer, be sure to contact your doctor. 

The earlier you discover liver cancer, the better your chances are for recovery. If you’re wondering to yourself, “Can an ultrasound detect liver cancer?” or “Is liver cancer curable?”, check out our blog to learn more. 

The 5 Types of Liver Cancer

Liver cancer can be broken down into 5 types:

#1 Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of liver cancer, and is the fifth most common cancer in men.5 Also known as hepatoma, HCC usually develops in the lining on the liver. Unfortunately, about 30% of people with HCC show no evidence of an associated condition or disease.6

#2 Fibrolamellar HCC

Fibrolamellar carcinoma (FLC) or fibrolamellar HCC (FLHCC) is a rare form of liver cancer that affects 1% to 5% of all liver cancer patients, and develops in teens or adults under 40 years old.7 This type of liver cancer is distinct from the others because it occurs in people who have otherwise healthy livers. 

Many people don’t show symptoms until a tumor forms, at which point the best chance for survival is by having surgery. People with FLC who receive surgery have a five-year survival rate (meaning that they survive five years after the procedure) of 44% to 68%. On the other hand, with treatment but no surgery, the five-year survival rate falls to 2% to 17%.8

#3 Cholangiocarcinoma

This type of liver cancer spreads through the small tubes (bile ducts) that carry the digestive fluid known as bile. Bile ducts connect the liver to the gallbladder and small intestine, and the bile is responsible for helping the body digest consumed fats. About 8,000 Americans are diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma per year, and 2 out of 3 patients are aged 65 years or more when it’s identified.9

Doctors divide cholangiocarcinoma further into two sub-categories:10

  • Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma – This cancer develops in the smaller bile duct branches inside the liver.
  • Extrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma – This type of cancer is known as bile duct cancer, and it affects the perihilar hepatic ducts that go into the liver and exit the liver. It can also affect the distal ducts, which are found further down the bile duct near the small intestine.

#4 Liver Angiosarcoma

Also known as hepatic angiosarcoma, this type accounts for 2% of all liver cancers and is exceedingly rare—and dangerous.11 Most patients diagnosed with liver angiosarcoma are aged 65 years or older, although it can develop at any age. It develops along the inner lining of the liver in the blood and lymph vessels. A family history of any angiosarcoma increases the risk of liver affectation, especially when mixed with other risk factors like alcoholism.

#5 Secondary Liver Cancer

Liver metastasis, or secondary liver cancer, happens when cancerous cells from elsewhere in the body make their way to the liver via the bloodstream or lymphatic system. Because cancer from another part of the body has to reach the liver to cause it to metastasize, secondary liver cancer is seen as advanced, or stage IV metastatic cancer.

While all of these liver cancers are different, most people don’t show symptoms until the liver cancer has advanced. However, knowing the stages and spotting the signs can make all the difference.

Stages of Liver Cancers

Liver cancer generally starts in the liver and develops until it spreads into the bloodstream, lymph nodes, and other parts of the body. Progression is marked by four stages in the medical community:12

  • Stage I – A single, small tumor has developed but hasn’t grown into the blood vessels, nearby lymph nodes, or to distant sites.
  • Stage II – A single large tumor or multiple small tumors have grown into the blood vessels. It hasn’t yet spread to nearby lymph nodes or to distant sites.
  • Stage III – More than one large liver tumor has grown, or any of the tumors have grown into a large vein in the liver. It has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or to distant sites. 
  • Stage IV – A single cancerous tumor or multiple tumors of any size have spread to nearby lymph nodes, to distant organs, or both.

While liver cancer can go undetected for most of the early stages, it’s important to know and recognize the symptoms as early as possible. Remember that many of the symptoms can be caused by problems other than liver cancer, so never self-diagnose and always check with your doctor if you experience any of the following.

With that in mind, here are the most common symptoms experienced by liver cancer patients:13

  • Rapid weight loss (without effort)
  • Itchiness
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constant feeling of fullness (even after a small meal)
  • Swollen abdomen (belly)
  • Right shoulder-blade pain
  • Pain in the abdomen (belly)
  • The feeling of fullness under the ribs on the right side (enlarged liver)
  • A feeling of fullness under the ribs on the left side (enlarged spleen)

Again, if you have one or more of these symptoms, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have liver cancer. To be safe, consult your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms or suspect you may have liver cancer.

Bringing Hope Back: Immunity Therapy Center

Liver cancer affects many people in America and around the world. Knowing what types of liver cancer there are, as well as the signs, can help you catch it early and find the best cancer treatment and targeted therapy.

Traditional treatments for liver cancer usually involve chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery. Although these treatments can be effective in killing the cancer, they come with a host of side effects that can leave a patient exhausted and their immune system weakened. That’s where Immunity Therapy Center comes in.

At Immunity Therapy Center, we specialize in alternative therapies for liver cancer that strengthen your body instead of harm it. Our team is committed to finding the best liver cancer treatment options for you, and we work endlessly to personalize a treatment plan just for you. That way, you’re getting the finest care and the best chances at a long and healthy life.

Reclaim your body and your life with Immunity Therapy Center.

Sources: 

  1. American Cancer Society. Cancer Statistics Center. https://cancerstatisticscenter.cancer.org/#!/ 
  2. PubMed. The Liver. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279393/ 
  3. CDC.gov. Excessive Alcohol use is a Risk to Men’s Health. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/mens-health.htm 
  4. American Cancer Society. Liver Cancer Risk Factors. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html 
  5. Health.online. Prevalence and Types of Liver Cancer. https://www.health.online/medical-conditions/liver-cancer/prevalence-and-types-of-liver-cancer/ 
  6. UPMC.com. Hepatocellular Carcinoma. https://www.upmc.com/services/liver-cancer/conditions/hepatocellular-carcinoma 
  7. Cancer.gov. Fibrolamellar Carcinoma. https://www.cancer.gov/pediatric-adult-rare-tumor/rare-tumors/rare-digestive-system-tumors/fibrolamellar-hepatocellular-carcinoma 
  8. Cancer.gov. Fibrolamellar Carcinoma. https://www.cancer.gov/pediatric-adult-rare-tumor/rare-tumors/rare-digestive-system-tumors/fibrolamellar-hepatocellular-carcinoma 
  9. Cholangiocarcinoma.org. Key Statistics.https://cholangiocarcinoma.org/key-statistics/ 
  10. PubMed. Hepatic Angiosarcoma. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30443453/ 
  11. American Cancer Society. Liver Cancer Stages. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/staging.html 
  12. Cancer.org. Signs and Symptoms of Liver Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html 
March 15, 2021

Dr. Carlos Bautista is a Board Certified Medical Doctor. He received his Medical Degree from Universidad Autónoma de Baja California and has more than 20 years of experience working with Alternative Medicine to treat cancer, autoimmune diseases, chronic degenerative diseases, and infectious diseases. He opened Immunity Therapy Center in 2007 with the goal of providing the highest quality medical care for more than 5,000 patients.

At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.