Liver Cancer

You can expect few, if any, outward symptoms of many cancers of the liver, or hepatobiliary cancers, before diagnosis.

Although uncommon in the United States, liver cancer is the fourth-most common form of the disease in the rest of the world. In the United States, men, especially Chinese American men, have a greater risk of developing the disease.


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Symptoms of Liver Cancer

When they do begin to show, symptoms can include:

  • Hard lump on the right side below the ribcage
  • Discomfort in the upper, right side of the abdomen
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Pain near the right shoulder blade or on the back
  • Jaundice
  • Easy bruising or bleeding.
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness.
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite or feeling full after small amounts
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pale, chalky bowel movements and dark urine
  • Fever

Types of Liver Cancer

The primary types of adult liver cancer:

  • Hepatocellular Carcinoma: the most common type
  • Cholangiocarcinoma: a bile duct cancer

In children, the primary types of liver cancer:

  • Hepatoblastoma: which usually affects children younger than 3
  • Hepatocellular Carcinoma: affecting older children and adolescents. It is more common in areas of Asia with high rates of hepatitis than in the U.S.

Diagnosing Liver Cancer

No routine screening test is available for liver cancer.

Instead, we use these methods:

  • Ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • Tumor marker tests

We also use a biopsy to diagnose liver cancer. A tissue sample is collected from the liver using a needle and syringe. A pathologist then examines the tissue for abnormalities such as cancer.


Treating Liver Cancer

Every case of liver cancer is examined by a team of gastroenterologists, surgeons, medical oncologists, pathologists and radiation oncology experts to determine the cancer’s stage and address any challenges.

Together, the team decides the best treatment for you based on blood tests, diagnostic test results and the size and number of liver masses present. Interventional radiologists may perform procedures like chemoembolization or cryoablation to freeze the mass.

Particularly difficult cases are presented quarterly at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Conference.

In some cases, a liver transplant is recommended. Hartford HealthCare has an experienced Liver Transplant Program providing the highest quality patient-centered care before, during and after transplant, all in a convenient community setting.

Founded in 1984, the Liver Transplant Program uses a comprehensive assessment to determine if transplantation is right for you. Transplant candidates are placed on a waiting list for a compatible liver. Our experts guide you from preparation through surgery and care on a special transplant unit at Hartford Hospital, and to life after transplant when they help you optimize your health.

Other procedures to address conditions of the liver and biliary tract:

  • Major liver resections: Surgeons remove a large portion of the liver and bigger tumors. These operations require intricate pre-surgical planning, testing and preparation, as well as close follow-up.
  • Robotic resections: Using a keyhole approach through several small incisions, surgeons remove portions of the liver. The technique yields minimal blood loss and complications, with patients recovering quickly. We can use the keyhole approach on older patients and those with comorbidities, who were once considered less-than-ideal surgical candidates.
  • Embolization: In this interventional radiology procedure, a specialist blocks blood flow to a liver tumor while preserving blood flow to the rest of the liver.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Alliance

We offer the latest treatments through our ongoing membership in the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Alliance, which gives you access to the latest standards of care and clinical trials.

The MSK Alliance

Support at the Cancer Institute

The Cancer Institute offers whatever you and your family need on your journey, whether it’s access to an oncology social worker, a nurse navigator to coordinate your care or the support of our Patient and Family Resource Center.

Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute