Liver Cancer

The liver, one of the largest organs of the body, has many important functions that keep a person healthy. It removes harmful material from the blood, produces enzymes and bile that help digest food and converts food into substances needed for life and growth.

Cancer of the liver, which may be primary or secondary cancer, involves an uncontrolled growth of cells. Primary cancer arises within the liver and in its early stages exists only in the liver. Secondary liver cancer, also called metastatic cancer, originates in another organ, such as the colon, stomach, pancreas or breast and then spreads to the liver. Because secondary cancer is present in at least two organs, the treatment possibilities are more limited than for primary liver cancer.

Cancer in the liver may be primary or secondary, also called metastatic. Primary cancer arises within the liver and in its early stages exists only within the liver. At an early stage, primary liver cancer may cause no symptoms at all. More advanced disease may cause loss of appetite, weight loss, fever, fatigue and weakness.

Secondary liver cancer is the term for cancer that originates in another organ, such as the colon, stomach, pancreas and breast, and then spreads to the liver. As the cancer grows, pain may develop in the upper abdomen on the right side and may extend into the back and shoulder. With advanced disease, the signs of liver failure appear, which include abdominal swelling and a feeling of fullness or bloating and jaundice, a condition in which the skin and the whites of the eyes become yellow and the urine becomes dark.

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.