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Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Several types of cancer can form in the liver, with the most common type of liver cancer being hepatocellular carcinoma. This specific cancer begins in the main type of liver cell (hepatocyte). It occurs most often in people with chronic liver diseases, such as cirrhosis caused by hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection.

Causes of Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Sometimes the cause of hepatocellular carcinoma is known, such as with chronic hepatitis infections. But sometimes liver cancer happens in people with no underlying diseases and it's not clear what causes it.

Certain factors can increase your risk of developing primary liver cancer, like:

  • Hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus infection
  • Cirrhosis
  • Diabetes
  • Certain inherited liver diseases such as hemochromatosis and Wilson's disease
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Exposure to aflatoxins
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

Symptoms of Hepatocellular Carcinoma

With hepatocellular carcinoma, most people don't have signs and symptoms in the early stages. However, when signs and symptoms do appear, they can include:

  • Losing weight without trying
  • Loss of appetite
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • General weakness and fatigue
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Yellow discoloration of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
  • White, chalky stools

Diagnosis for Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Various tests and procedures can be used to diagnose liver cancer, including:

  • Blood tests – Blood tests may reveal liver function abnormalities.
  • Imaging tests – Your doctor may recommend imaging tests, such as an ultrasound, CT and MRI.
  • Biopsy - Removing a sample of liver tissue for testing.

Once liver cancer is diagnosed, your doctor will work to determine the extent (stage) of the cancer. Staging tests help determine the size and location of cancer and whether it has spread.

Treatment for Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Treatments for hepatocellular carcinoma depend on the extent of the disease as well as your age, overall health and personal preferences. Generally, treatment options include:

  • Surgery
  • Localized treatments (heating and freezing cancer cells, injecting alcohol into the tumor, etc.)
  • Radiation therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Chemotherapy