Liver Cancer

Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment

The liver is one of the most important organs in your body. Located under your rib cage on the right side of your body, the liver processes what we eat and drink into energy and nutrients, while also removing harmful toxins from your blood.

Liver cancer can be categorized into two groups:

  • Primary liver cancer: Cancer that begins in the liver – about 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with primary liver cancer each year. Primary liver cancer is one of the few cancers on the rise in the United States and is found twice as often in men than in women.
  • Metastatic liver cancer: Cancer that spreads to the liver from another organ

Risk Factors

The scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) can lead to liver cancer. Cirrhosis is usually caused by chronic alcoholism or long-term exposure to hepatitis B and C infection. Hepatitis B is unique because it can lead to liver cancer without cirrhosis. Diabetes and obesity can also increase the risk of liver cancer.


Liver cancer typically shows little to no symptoms at all. It is only when the cancer starts reaching an advanced stage that symptoms appear and are recognized.

Symptoms of liver cancer may include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and the skin)
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Bloating
  • Pain on the right side of the upper abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite

Experiencing these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have liver cancer, but they may signal other health problems that should be addressed and checked out by your doctor.


It is important for liver cancer to be diagnosed as early as possible. This helps increase your odds for successful treatment and lowers the chance of side effects. If you are experiencing symptoms that might be liver cancer, your doctor will examine you and will order a variety of diagnostic tests. Some of the most common tests are blood tests, ultrasound tests, computer tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and angiograms. Your doctor may also need to do a liver biopsy, in which a small piece of liver tissue is removed and studied in the lab.


At Alaska Surgical Oncology, we personalize your liver cancer treatment to ensure the highest chances for success. Liver cancer treatment depends on the liver’s current condition, the size and location of the tumor(s), as well as if the cancer has spread outside the liver.

If the cancer has not spread outside of the liver, then surgery may be the right treatment option. Surgery may consist of either a liver transplant or if the rest of the liver is healthy, doctors may perform surgery to remove only the tumor section from the liver (partial hepatectomy). A successful liver transplant will effectively cure liver cancer, but is only available for a small percentage of patients. Surgical resections are successful in nearly one out of three cases.

If liver transplant is not available and surgical resection is not possible then Alaska Surgical Oncology would look to other specific liver directed treatment options such as Cryosurgery, Radiofrequency Ablation, Ethanol Injections. Chemotherapy, Radiation, and Sorafenib (oral medication) would also be possible treatment options.

The Healthquest Guidebook

As a community service, we have produced a free guidebook on how to detect and prevent common cancers, and when you need to have screenings with your family physician.

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