Some people who have a high chance of developing liver cancer may get regular blood tests and ultrasounds to see whether tumors are developing.
To accurately diagnose hepatocellular carcinoma, a biopsy of the tumor must be done.
Treatment depends on how advanced the cancer is.
Surgery may be done if the tumor has not spread. Before surgery, the tumor may be treated with chemotherapy to reduce its size. This is done by delivering the medicine straight into the liver with a tube (catheter) or by giving it intravenously (by IV).
Radiation treatments in the area of the cancer may also be helpful. But in people who have liver cirrhosis or other liver diseases, radiation is difficult to perform.
Ablation is another method that may be used. Ablate means to destroy. Types of ablation include using:
Radio waves or microwaves
Ethanol (an alcohol) or acetic acid (vinegar)
Extreme cold (cryoablation)
A liver transplant may be recommended for certain people who have both cancer and cirrhosis.
If the cancer can't be surgically removed or has spread outside the liver, there is usually no chance for long-term cure. Treatment instead focuses on improving and extending one's life. Treatment in this case is chemotherapy, and can be taken as pills or given through a vein (by IV).
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.
If the cancer cannot be completely removed, the disease is usually fatal within 3 to 6 months. But survival can vary depending on how advanced the cancer is when diagnosed and how successful treatment is.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you develop ongoing abdominal pain, especially if you have a history of any liver disease.
Preventive measures include:
Preventing and treating viral hepatitis may help reduce your risk. Childhood vaccination against hepatitis B may reduce the risk of liver cancer in the future.
Do not drink excessive amounts of alcohol.
People with certain types of hemochromatosis (iron overload) may need to be screened for liver cancer.
People who have hepatitis B or C or cirrhosis may be recommended for liver cancer screening.
Abou-Alfa GK, Jarnagin W, Lowery M, et al. Liver and bile duct cancer. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2014:chap 80.
Di Bisceglie AM, Befeler AS. Hepatic tumors and cysts. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology/Diagnosis/Management. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 96.
Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.