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Chemotherapy may be used to treat liver cancer.

Chemotherapy may be used to treat liver cancer.
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Liver cancer

Liver cancer is a cancer affecting the cells of your liver – the largest organ in your body. It is the fifth most common type of cancer in men and the ninth most common in women. While it is among the top ten causes of cancer deaths in Australia, it is relatively uncommon in this country. Improved treatments can offer better outcomes for people with liver cancer.

Types of liver cancer

The liver sits just under your ribs, on the right side of your abdomen. It manufactures bile and blood proteins, filters your blood, rids your body of harmful chemicals, and has other vital functions.

There are two main types of liver cancer – ‘primary’, which means the cancer started in the liver, and ‘secondary’, which means the cancer has spread into the liver from another part of the body.

Primary liver cancer

Most people with primary liver cancer have hepatoma or hepatocellular cancer. This begins in the main type of liver cell, known as a hepatocyte.

The cancer can occur as a single tumour and spread through the liver or it can start in many different cells across the liver.

Other types of primary liver cancer include:

  • cholangiocarcinoma – or bile duct cancer, which starts in the cells lining the bile ducts
  • angiosarcoma – a rare liver cancer that starts in the blood vessels.

If primary liver cancer is not found early or treatment is unsuccessful, it can metastasise or spread to other parts of the body.

Secondary cancer in the liver

Most cancers that affect the liver have spread from elsewhere in the body. These are known as secondary cancer in the liver. These secondary cancers are named after the part of the body in which they started. Colon, breast, ovarian and lung cancers, as well as melanomas, are all cancers that can spread to the liver.

Last reviewed: June 2017

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