Liver Cancer

What is the liver?

The liver is the largest solid organ of the body. It is located on the right side of the abdomen just beneath the right diaphragm. Surrounding organs include the gall bladder (located just behind the liver), the small intestine, part of the colon (large intestine), the right kidney, and the head of the pancreas.

The liver is triangular in shape and is divided into a right and left lobe, the right lobe being the larger of the two. It provides several important functions to the body including:

The liver is a very vascular structure, containing a large number of blood vessels, and receives blood through two separate systems: the hepatic artery and the portal vein.

Blood from the abdomen and lower body flows through the liver where it is processed. It then proceeds to the inferior vena cava and ultimately empties into the heart. In large part, due the vascular nature of the liver, it is a very common site to which cancers from other areas of the body spread (also known as metastasis).

What Causes Liver Cancer?

Many liver cancer cases are related to hepatitis B virus or hepatitis C virus infections. Most people don’t know they have the virus.

Other behaviors and conditions that increase risk for getting liver cancer are:

What are the signs of liver cancer?

Liver cancer usually does not cause a lot of symptoms until the cancer is quite advanced. Because of this, early stage liver cancers are rarely detected. When patients do develop symptoms, they may have:

How is liver cancer diagnosed?

When liver cancer is suspected, the healthcare provider will perform a thorough history and physical examination. If a liver tumor is suspected or a patient is at high risk for developing a liver cancer, a number of diagnostic tests may be performed: