Hepatocellular carcinoma accounts for most liver cancers. This type of cancer occurs more often in men than women. It is usually seen in people age 50 or older. However, the age varies in different parts of the world.
The disease is more common in parts of Africa and Asia than in North or South America and Europe.
Hepatocellular carcinoma is not the same as metastatic liver cancer, which starts in another organ (such as the breast or colon) and spreads to the liver.
In most cases, the cause of liver cancer is usually scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). Cirrhosis may be caused by:
Alcohol abuse (the most common cause in the United States)
Some high-risk patients may get regular blood tests and ultrasounds to see whether tumors are developing.
Aggressive surgery or a liver transplant can successfully treat small or slow-growing tumors if they are diagnosed early. However, few patients are diagnosed early.
Chemotherapy delivered straight into the liver with a catheter can help, but it will not cure the disease. Radiation treatments in the area of the cancer may also be helpful. However, many patients have liver cirrhosis or other liver diseases that make these treatments more difficult.
Sorafenib tosylate (Nexavar), an oral medicine that blocks tumor growth, is now approved for patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma.
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group with members who share common experiences and problems. See:
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.