Liver Cancer

Liver cancer is uncommon in the United States, but it is common worldwide due to risk factors such as chronic hepatitis B and C infections and exposure to aflatoxin (toxins produced by a certain fungus in agricultural crops). People with cirrhosis are at an increased risk of liver cancer. Treatment may include surgery, a liver transplant, ablation therapy (a needle or probe is used to kill cancer cells), embolization therapy (cutting off blood supply to a tumor), oral targeted agents, chemotherapy, anti-angiogenic agents, and immunotherapy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes liver cancer?

    The exact causes aren’t fully understood, but risk factors include viral hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections, heavy alcohol use, smoking, family history of liver cancer or genetic diseases linked to liver cancer, chemical exposures, and medical conditions such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and diabetes.

  • Is liver cancer curable?

    If caught early and the liver is healthy, surgery can sometimes be curative. If caught early and the liver is damaged, a liver transplant is also sometimes an option that can be curative. Although, transplant candidates often have to wait for prolonged periods to receive a transplant. The size of the tumor and whether or not it has affected nearby blood vessels is also important in prognosis.

  • Is liver cancer painful?

    Liver cancer can cause right-sided abdominal or shoulder blade pain. It can also lead to complications such as a bile duct obstruction that can cause severe abdominal pain. Treatments, including surgery, may also lead to some temporary pain.

  • How long can you live with stage 4 liver cancer?

    Stage 4 liver cancer is much harder to successfully treat than other stages because it means that the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes and/or to distant organs and sites, such as the lungs, bones, and adrenal glands. Survival rates vary and are only overall estimates, but the relative 5-year survival rate is about 2% (distant spread) to 11% (regional spread). 

  • What are the warning signs of liver cancer?

    In the early stages of disease, there are often no symptoms. The signs and symptoms of liver cancer are often related to liver damage and include jaundice (yellow skin/eyes), right-sided abdominal pain, right shoulder blade pain, right-sided abdominal mass or lump, itching, unexplained weight loss, shortness of breath, and bloating.

Key Terms

The Stages of Liver Cancer

Explore interactive models that show how liver cancer can progress in the body, and the changes that occur in each stage of the disease.

Page Sources
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  2. Suh JK, Lee J, Lee JH, Shin S, Tchoe HJ, Kwon JW. Risk factors for developing liver cancer in people with and without liver disease. PLoS One. 2018;13(10):e0206374. Published 2018 Oct 29. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0206374

  3. American Cancer Society. Treatment of liver cancer, by stage. Updated June 10, 2020.

  4. Allan BJ, Parikh PP. Predictors of survival and incidence of hepatoblastoma in the paediatric population. HPB (Oxford). 2013;15(10):741-746. Doi: 10.1111/hpb.12112

  5. American Cancer Society. What is liver cancer? Updated April 1, 2019.

Additional Reading