Liver cancer

There are two main types of primary liver cancer – hepatocellular carcinoma and cholangiocarcinoma.

Malignant liver tumours can be either primary (the original site) or metastatic (secondary to another cancer somewhere else in the body).

About liver cancer

Primary liver cancer is cancer that begins in the liver.  Cancer that started in another part of the body and has spread to the liver is called secondary liver cancer.  Primary liver cancer is more common in men than in women, and the risk of developing liver cancer gets higher as we get older. Whilst rare, primary liver cancer is increasing in prevalence in the UK. 

If you are diagnosed with liver cancer you will have immediate access to our world-leading consultants and state-of-the-art hospitals. 

Liver cancer types

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) or Hepatoma is the most common type of primary liver cancer. HCC arises from the main cells of the liver known as the hepatocytes. Whist ordinarily confined to the liver it may, on occasion, spread to other organs. More common in men than women, HCC occurs mostly in people with cirrhosis of the liver.


Cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer) starts in the cells lining the bile ducts and is more common in men than in women. The bile ducts are the tubes connecting the liver and gall bladder to the small intestine. This type of liver cancer is more common in women.

Need to Know

  • Liver cancer symptoms icon plus

    With primary liver cancer, symptoms include:

    • loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss
    • feeling very full after eating, even small amounts
    • nausea and vomiting
    • pain or bloating in your tummy
    • jaundice (yellowing skin)
    • itchy skin
    • feeling tired and weak

    Most cases of primary liver cancer affect people with damage and scarring of the liver, called cirrhosis.
    With secondary liver cancer, symptoms can be similar to those of primary liver cancer, although often there are no symptoms at all.

    As these symptoms are quite vague and can often be caused by other conditions, it’s a good idea to get checked by your GP or consultant if you notice them.

  • Liver cancer diagnosis icon plus

    In order to diagnose liver cancer, you may be given the following tests:

    • a physical examination to check for tenderness where the liver is, under the right-hand side of your rib cage
    • blood tests
    • liver ultrasound
    • CT scan
    • MRI scan
    • Liver biopsy (small needle used to take a sample of tissue) and your liver is then examined with a laparoscope (a thin tube with a tiny camera)

    People who are at a higher risk of liver cancer, especially those with cirrhosis, are often given regular check-ups, called ‘surveillance’. This helps doctors to diagnose the cancer as early as possible and gives a better chance for the treatment to be effective.

  • Liver cancer treatment icon plus

    Primary liver cancer treatment depends on the size and stage of the cancer. Options may include:

    • surgical resection – removing a section of liver
    • liver transplant – replacing with a donor liver
    • microwave or radiofrequency ablation – using microwaves or radio waves to kill cancerous cells
    • chemotherapy – medicine to destroy the cancer cells
    • cyrotherapy – using extreme cold to attack abnormal tissue

    With secondary liver cancer, surgery may be an option, but chemotherapy is the most common treatment. This will depend on which parts of the liver are affected, where the primary cancer is and if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

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This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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