Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the liver, it is called liver cancer. Each year in the United States, about 24,000 men and 10,000 women get liver cancer, and about 18,000 men and 9,000 women die from the disease. The percentage of Americans who get liver cancer has been rising for several decades, but may be beginning to level off. Liver cancer is more common in other parts of the world than in the United States.
What Is the Liver?
The liver is the largest organ in the human body, located on the upper right side of the body, behind the lower ribs. The liver does many jobs, including—
- Storing nutrients.
- Removing waste products and worn-out cells from the blood.
- Filtering and processing chemicals in food, alcohol, and medications.
- Producing bile, a solution that helps digest fats and eliminate waste products.
What Are the Symptoms of Liver Cancer?
In its early stages, liver cancer may not have symptoms that can be seen or felt. However, as the cancer grows larger, people may notice one or more of these common symptoms. It’s important to remember that these symptoms could also be caused by other health conditions. If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor.
Liver cancer symptoms may include—
- Discomfort in the upper abdomen on the right side.
- A swollen abdomen.
- A hard lump on the right side just below the rib cage.
- Pain near the right shoulder blade or in the back.
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).
- Easy bruising or bleeding.
- Unusual tiredness.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Loss of appetite.
- Weight loss for no known reason.
What Causes Liver Cancer?
Behaviors and conditions that increase risk for getting liver cancer are—
- Being overweight or obese.
- Having a long-term hepatitis B virus or hepatitis C virus infection.
- Smoking cigarettes.
- Drinking alcohol.
- Having cirrhosis (scarring of the liver, which can also be caused by hepatitis and alcohol use).
- Having diabetes or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- Having hemochromatosis, a condition where the body takes up and stores more iron than it needs.
- Eating foods that have aflatoxin (a fungus that can grow on foods, such as grains and nuts that have not been stored properly).
How Can I Reduce My Risk for Liver Cancer?
You can lower your risk of getting liver cancer in the following ways—
- Keep a healthy weight.
- Get vaccinated against Hepatitis B. The Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all infants at birth and for adults who may be at increased risk.
- Get tested for Hepatitis C, and get medical care if you have it.
- Don’t smoke, or quit if you do.
- Avoid drinking too much alcohol.
The Data Visualizations tool makes it easy for anyone to explore and use the latest official federal government cancer data from United States Cancer Statistics. It includes the latest cancer data covering 100% of the U.S. population.
A CDC studyexternal icon found that the number of people who are alive five years after being told they have liver cancer is low. During 2004 to 2009—
- About 26% of liver cancer patients were alive five years after diagnosis if the cancer had not spread beyond the liver.
- About 10% were alive five years after diagnosis if the cancer had spread only to tissues or lymph nodes near the liver.
- About 4% were alive five years after diagnosis if the cancer had spread from the liver to other parts of the body.
- Liver and Bile Duct Cancerexternal icon (National Cancer Institute)
- Video: Hepatitis and Liver Cancer (National Cancer Institute)
- Alcohol and Cancer
- U.S. Cancer Statistics data brief: Liver Cancer Incidence in the American Indian and Alaska Native Population, United States—2012–2016
- Viral Hepatitis and Liver Cancer Prevention Profilesexternal icon
- Implementation of liver cancer education among health care providers and community coalitions in the Cherokee Nation
- Promising practices for the prevention of liver cancer: a review of the literature and cancer plan activities in the National Comprehensive Cancer Control Programexternal icon
- Incidence of primary liver cancer in American Indians and Alaska Nativesexternal icon
- Trends in liver cancer mortality in the United Statesexternal icon
- Liver cancer survival in the United States by race and stage (2001–2009)external icon
- The burden of primary liver cancer and underlying etiologies from 1990 to 2015 at the global, regional, and national levelexternal icon
- Annual report to the nation on the status of cancer, 1975–2012, featuring the increasing incidence of liver cancerexternal icon