A cancerous liver tumor is an abnormal mass that forms when a cellular DNA sequence mutates, causing the cells to grow and divide uncontrollably. The tumor may originate in the liver or metastasize to the liver after cancerous cells break away from another tumor site and enter the bloodstream. Because the liver continually filters blood received from the rest of the body, it is a common site for cancer spread. In fact, most malignant liver tumors are metastatic.
Noncancerous liver tumors such as adenomas and cysts are quite common. A benign liver mass may not cause symptoms or require treatment unless it grows large enough to press on a nearby organ and cause abdominal pain. Unlike a malignant tumor, a benign tumor cannot invade surrounding tissues or spread to other areas of the body.
What Triggers the Development of Liver Tumors?
Most liver tumors have no known cause, although researchers have established a link between several unhealthy lifestyle factors and liver cancer. These include:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Tobacco use
- Anabolic steroid use
Additionally, medical conditions such as cirrhosis, fatty liver disease, chronic hepatitis B and C infections, diabetes and certain inherited metabolic and autoimmune diseases are known to increase the risk of liver cancer.
What Are Some Possible Signs of a Liver Tumor?
In addition to abdominal pain, a liver tumor can cause:
- Swelling or a palpable mass on the right side of the upper abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- A sensation of fullness after eating a small meal
- Unintended weight loss
- Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- Itchy skin
- Unexplained fatigue
How Are Liver Tumors Diagnosed?
A liver tumor may grow large enough to be seen or felt. Additionally, an imaging study performed for an unrelated reason may reveal an asymptomatic liver mass that warrants further investigation. If appropriate, a physician may order a biopsy to confirm or rule out a liver cancer diagnosis.
Treatment Options for Liver Tumors
Treatment for a malignant liver tumor can vary depending on the type and stage of the cancer. To address a single tumor with no blood vessel involvement, a partial hepatectomy may be the best option. This surgical procedure involves removing the affected area of the liver while keeping a sufficient portion of the organ intact so that it can continue to perform its essential functions. If surgery poses a high risk of liver failure, such as in the case of cirrhosis, a liver transplant may be a better option.
Tampa General Hospital is a premier destination for the evaluation and treatment of all types of liver tumors, including rare and complex conditions. We’re proud to offer the latest advances in liver tumor treatment, including:
- Radiation therapy
- Intra-arterial embolization
- Tumor ablation
- Surgical liver resection
- Liver transplantation