Understanding the different types of liver cancer.
When healthy cells have abnormal DNA changes that cause uncontrollable cell growth and division, this can cause liver cancer. Primary liver cancer, which develops in the liver, and secondary liver cancer, which spreads to the liver after forming in another part of the body, are the two main types of liver cancer. There are various subtypes of primary and secondary liver cancers, and each one has a different cause, is treated differently, and has a different prognosis.
Primary Liver Cancer
Primary liver cancer is a term used to describe cancer that begins in the liver. There are various types of primary liver cancer, including the following.
Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common form of primary liver cancer in adults. People with chronic liver diseases, such as cirrhosis brought on by hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection, are most likely to develop hepatocellular carcinoma. In addition, hepatocellular carcinoma is more prevalent in people who consume large amounts of alcohol and have an accumulation of fat in the liver.
There are several different subtypes of HCC. These subgroups typically have no impact on either treatment or prognosis. However, it’s important to recognize one of these subtypes, called fibrolamellar. This subtype is uncommon, accounting for fewer than 1% of HCCs and mainly affecting women under the age of 35. Fibrolamellar is different than other types of liver cancer because it occurs in people who have otherwise healthy livers.
Intrahepatic Cholangiocarcinoma (Bile Duct Cancer)
About 10% to 20% of cancers that start in the liver are intrahepatic cholangiocarcinomas. These cancers form in the cells that line the liver’s bile ducts, which are tubes that deliver bile to the gallbladder. While bile duct cancer is often confused with cancers that form in the liver cells (hepatocellular carcinomas), they are often given the same treatments.
Angiosarcoma and Hemangiosarcoma
These are rare cancers that form in the cells lining the liver’s blood vessels. These cancers are more likely to develop in individuals who have been exposed to vinyl chloride or thorium dioxide (Thorotrast). Other cases may be caused by hereditary hemochromatosis, or by exposure to arsenic or radium. In about half of all cases, however, it is impossible to pinpoint the exact cause.
By the time these tumors are discovered, they are typically too advanced to be surgically removed. Although these tumors are usually difficult to treat, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other minimally invasive treatments may help slow the disease.
This is an extremely rare type of cancer that typically affects children under the age of four. Hepatoblastoma cells resemble the appearance of fetal liver cells. About two out of three children with Hepatoblastoma are treated successfully with surgery and chemotherapy. However, the tumors are more difficult to treat if they have spread outside the liver.
Secondary Liver Cancer (Metastatic Liver Cancer)
When cancer has spread (metastasized) to the liver from another part of the body, this is called secondary liver cancer. Secondary liver cancer is made of the same type of cells as the primary cancer (where the cancer started). For example, if the cancer started in your lung and metastasized to your liver, the affected parts of the liver are comprised of lung cancer cells.
A few common types of secondary liver cancer include:
- Metastatic colorectal cancer
- Metastatic breast cancer
- Metastatic esophageal cancer
- Metastatic stomach cancer
- Metastatic pancreatic cancer
- Metastatic lung cancer
- Metastatic kidney cancer
- Metastatic melanoma
In the United States and Europe, secondary (metastatic) liver cancers are more prevalent than primary liver cancers. However, the opposite is true in many regions of Asia and Africa.
Minimally Invasive Liver Cancer Treatments in New York
The types of liver cancer treatment will depend on the source of cancer, the size, and type of cancer, where it is located, and the patient’s general health. At USA Oncology Centers, we offer minimally invasive treatments for both primary and secondary liver cancer that reduce painful symptoms, increase life expectancy, and enhance the quality of life.
Our expert liver cancer treatments may include the following:
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