Cancer that originates in one part of the body but then spreads to the liver is not strictly known as "liver cancer" but rather keeps the name of its origin. For example, metastatic breast or lung cancer is still considered "breast" or "lung" cancer—and is treated accordingly—even if it spreads to the liver, because it originated in the breast or lung. "Liver cancer" means the cancer originated in the liver.
The most common form of liver cancer in the U.S. is hepatocellular carcinoma, cancer that arises from liver cells called hepatocytes. According to the American Cancer Society, this type accounts for about 3 out of 4 cases of primary liver cancer. Another 1-2 cases out of 10 are cholangiocarcinomas, cancers that start in the bile ducts. Liver cancer is frequently asymptomatic at first, so it is not usually diagnosed in its earliest stages. Those with chronic hepatitis B and those with cirrhosis are at an increased risk of developing liver cancer. Many people with cirrhosis or advanced chronic hepatitis are regularly screened for liver cancer to detect it early, when it may be more treatable.
- AFP (alpha-fetoprotein), AFP-L3% – to help evaluate risk, diagnose, and monitor for recurrence of liver cancer
- DCP (Des-gamma-carboxy prothrombin) – to evaluate risk and monitor for recurrence of liver cancer
- Liver biopsy – to diagnose liver cancer
- CT (computed tomography)
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
For more information on these imaging procedures, see RadiologyInfo.org.