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October 31, 2023

Liver cancer: What you need to know

In Cancer Treatment, Liver Cancer

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Your liver is an essential organ with several critical functions, including digestion and detoxification. Much like other organs in the body, the liver is not immune to the threat of cancer. Fortunately, liver cancer is relatively rare, offering some solace in the face of this potential risk. However, it’s important to acknowledge that the number of liver cancer cases is steadily increasing. 

There are two distinct types of liver cancer: Hepatocellular carcinoma and cholangiocarcinoma. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of liver cancer among U.S. adults.

With this understanding of the significance of liver health and the potential risks it faces, let’s delve further into liver cancer—its symptoms, treatment options, and essential preventive measures to safeguard your liver’s well-being.


Even though the liver is your largest organ, early stages of liver cancer don’t usually cause noticeable symptoms.

In later stages, you may have a lump below your right rib cage or abdominal swelling or discomfort. Other potential symptoms are:

  • Back pain
  • Loss of appetite or feeling full after small meals
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Whites of eyes and skin become yellow (jaundice)
  • Skin that’s itchy or easily bruises or bleeds
  • Feeling weak or more tired than usual
  • Dark urine and chalky bowel movements

Talk openly with your healthcare provider about your symptoms, risk for liver cancer, and whether you should be tested for it.  


If you’re diagnosed with liver cancer, your healthcare team will create a treatment plan based on:

  • Your symptoms, general health, and age
  • How well your liver is working
  • Whether the cancer has spread within or outside your liver 
  • How you feel about the side effects of treatment

In some cases, you may have surgery to remove part of the liver where the tumor is located. You can also have surgery to replace your liver with a healthy one. Treatment plans may also include one or more of the following:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Embolization
  • Immunotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Targeted therapy
  • Tumor ablation

Your healthcare team may ask if you’d like to join a clinical trial for access to a new drug or other treatment.


Liver health is closely tied to your lifestyle choices and the avoidance of risk factors that can lead to liver damage. One significant factor to consider is the impact of alcohol consumption. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), excessive alcohol use is a leading cause of liver damage and can increase the risk of liver cancer.1 Therefore, moderation in alcohol use is crucial for maintaining a healthy liver.

Here are some key steps to help lower your risk of liver damage and liver cancer:

  • Limit alcohol consumption: The NIAAA recommends moderate drinking, defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. This moderation is crucial for protecting your liver from alcohol-related damage.
  • Get tested for hepatitis C and B: Depending on your risk level, it’s essential to undergo testing for hepatitis C and B infections, as these can lead to liver cell damage and cirrhosis.
  • Stay up to date on hepatitis B vaccines: Hepatitis B vaccination can provide protection against this viral infection, reducing the risk of liver-related complications.
  • Use condoms when you have sex: Practicing safe sex can help prevent the transmission of hepatitis B and C and other sexually transmitted infections that can harm your liver.
  • Quit smoking, or don’t start using tobacco: Smoking is linked to various health issues, including liver problems. Avoiding tobacco products altogether or quitting smoking can contribute to better liver health.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity is associated with an increased risk of liver disease. Strive to achieve and maintain a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular physical activity.

If you need assistance or guidance on making these lifestyle changes, consider working with your healthcare provider. They can offer personalized advice and connect you with resources to support your liver health journey.

1  National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.” ( [Accessed October 2023]