- The most common type of primary liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) or hepatoma. HCC starts in the hepatocytes, which is the main liver cell
- Approximately 2,800 people in Australia are diagnosed with primary liver cancer each year. Almost three times more men are affected by liver cancer than women
- Primary liver cancer is different to secondary (or metastatic) liver cancer, which refers to a cancer that started somewhere else in the body and has spread to the liver
Primary liver cancer refers to a malignant or solid tumour that starts in the liver. It occurs when abnormal cells grow uncontrollably in the liver, forming a cancerous tumour.
There are three different types of primary liver cancer, which include:
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), also known as hepatoma, is the most common type of primary liver cancer. HCC is a liver cancer which starts in the main liver cells, called hepatocytes. It occurs most often in people with an underlying or long-term liver disease.
Cholangiocarcinoma, also known as bile duct cancer, is a type of liver cancer which develops in the cells lining the bile ducts. These bile ducts connect the liver to the bowel and gallbladder. Cholangiocarcinoma is less common than HCC, making up 10-15% of primary liver cancer diagnoses worldwide.
Angiosarcoma is an uncommon liver cancer which starts in the blood vessels. This liver cancer is very rare and is more likely to occur in people over 70.
Liver cancer can be difficult to detect early, as most people don’t show any signs and symptoms in its early stages. Signs and symptoms of liver cancer are more likely to appear in later stages of the disease as the cancer grows. This is why it’s important to see your GP or healthcare professional if you experience any of the symptoms below. Discussing anything concerning with your doctor as soon as possible can help give you peace of mind and offer the best chance of successful treatment if you receive a liver cancer diagnosis. Symptoms may include:
Weakness and tiredness
Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen
Severe pain and/or swelling of the abdomen
Appetite loss and feeling sick
Yellowing skin and eyes
Pale bowel motions
The TNM staging system is used to stage liver cancer, and it helps doctors understand what your cancer looks like. Learn more about the TNM staging system.
People with Hepatocellular carcinoma cancer often have liver cirrhosis as well. Prognosis can be affected by either of these conditions, so a hybrid staging system called The Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer (BCLC) is used in liver cancer as it includes both the cancer size and extent, as well as the degree of liver dysfunction.
A Child-Pugh score helps your doctor to better understand how liver cancer is impacting your ability to carry on daily life.
The Child-Pugh score is defined as:
- Child-Pugh A – The liver is working well and cirrhosis is less advanced
- Child-Pugh B – The liver is working moderately well
- Child-Pugh C – The liver is not working well and cirrhosis is advanced
BCLC Staging System
Stage 0 (very early)
There is a single tumour less than 2 cm in size. The Child-Pugh score is Child-Pugh A.
Stage A (early)
There is a single tumour greater than 2 cm in size or up to three tumours less than 3 cm. The Child-Pugh score is Child–Pugh A or B.
Stage B (intermediate)
More extensive than Stage A but the cancer is still confined to the liver. The Child-Pugh score is Child-Pugh A or B.
Stage C (advanced)
The tumour has grown into one of the main blood vessels of the liver, or spread to the lymph nodes or other body organs. The Child-Pugh score is Child–Pugh A or B.
Stage D (end-stage)
The tumour is any size. The Child-Pugh score is Child-Pugh C.
Liver cancer is not considered hereditary but having a family history of both hepatitis B and liver cancer is considered a risk factor.
Long term infection caused by the hepatitis B or C viruses is the biggest known risk factor for primary liver cancer in Australia.
Other factors which contribute to the risk of developing liver cancer include:
- Chronic liver infection with the hepatitis B or C virus
- Fatty liver disease or genetic disorders including haemochromatosis, or alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency
- Type 2 diabetes
- Family history
- Being over the age of 60
- High levels of long-term alcohol consumption
Approximately 2,800 people in Australia were diagnosed with primary liver cancer in 2021. Almost three times more men than women are affected by liver cancer. In 2019, liver cancer was the seventh most common cause of cancer death in Australia.
You can reduce your risk of developing liver cancer by reducing your exposure to known risk factors for this disease, such as:
- Avoiding infection with hepatitis B and C and receiving treatment if you have been diagnosed
- Limiting alcohol and tobacco use
- Getting to and staying at a healthy weight
- Limiting exposure to cancer-causing chemicals
- Treating diseases that increase liver cancer risk, such as hemochromatosis
There is no national screening program for liver cancer in Australia.
Icon delivers Australia’s largest private cancer clinical trials and research program participating in international and national trials across medical oncology, haematology and radiation oncology. If you would like more information on participating in a clinical trial, please speak with your doctor.
- Australia Government. (2022, January 7). Liver Cancer Statistics. Retrieved from Cancer Australia: https://www.canceraustralia.gov.au/cancer-types/liver-cancer/statistics
- Cancer Council. (2022, January 7). Liver Cancer. Retrieved from Cancer Council: https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/types-of-cancer/liver-cancer
- Cancer Council. (2022, January 7). Liver Cancer Prevention. Retrieved from Cancer Council: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/prevention.html
- Cancer Council. (2022, January 7). Liver Cancer Staging and Prognosis. Retrieved from Cancer Council: https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/liver-cancer/diagnosis/staging-prognosis/
- Cancer Council Australia. (2022, January 7). Liver Cancer. Retrieved from Cancer Council: https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/types-of-cancer/liver-cancer
- Cancer Council NSW. (2022, January 7). Understanding Cancer in the Liver. Retrieved from Cancer Council NSW: https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Understanding-Cancer-in-the-Liver-2020.pdf
- Liver Foundation. (2022, January 7). Liver Diseases. Retrieved from Liver Foundation : https://www.liver.org.au/news-events
- Pancare Foundation. (2022, January 7). Liver Cancer Symptoms and Risk Factora. Retrieved from Pancare Foundation: https://www.pancare.org.au/cancer/liver-cancer/liver-cancer-symptoms-risk-factors
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