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August 2023

Liver Cancer: What You Need to Know

Your liver is the largest internal organ in your body. Yet you probably haven’t heard as much about liver cancer as other cancer types. That’s likely because liver cancer is less common in the U.S. than other parts of the world. However, the number of cases is on the rise.


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of liver cancer among U.S. adults. Early stages of HCC don’t usually cause noticeable symptoms.

In later stages, you may have a lump below your right rib cage or abdominal swelling or discomfort. Other potential symptoms are:

  • Back pain

  • Loss of appetite or feeling full after small meals

  • Unexpected weight loss

  • Whites of eyes and skin become yellow (jaundice)

  • Skin that’s itchy or easily bruises or bleeds

  • Feeling weak or more tired than usual

  • Dark urine and chalky bowel movements

Talk openly with your healthcare provider about your symptoms, risk for liver cancer, and whether you should be tested for it. 


If you’re diagnosed with liver cancer, your healthcare team will create a treatment plan based on:

  • Your symptoms, general health, and age

  • How well your liver is working

  • Whether the cancer has spread within or outside your liver

  • How you feel about the side effects of treatment

In some cases, you may have surgery to remove part of the liver where the tumor is located. You can also have surgery to replace your liver with a healthy one. Treatment plans may include one or more of the following:

  • Chemotherapy

  • Embolization

  • Immunotherapy

  • Radiation

  • Targeted therapy

  • Tumor ablation

Your healthcare team may ask if you’d like to join a clinical trial for access to a new medicine or other treatment.


Hepatitis C and hepatitis B infections damage liver cells and can lead to the growth of scar tissue. This condition is known as cirrhosis. Both hepatitis C and B can spread through childbirth, unprotected sex, and sharing needles, like those used to inject opioids and other drugs. In addition to long-term hepatitis infections, heavy alcohol use is a leading risk factor for cirrhosis and liver cancer.


Following this advice may help you lower your risk:

  • Get tested for hepatitis C and B, depending on your risk level.

  • Stay up to date on hepatitis B vaccines.

  • Use condoms when you have sex.

  • Limit how much alcohol you drink.

  • Quit smoking, or don’t start using tobacco.

  • Get to or stay at a healthy weight.

If you need help, work with your provider, who can offer advice and connect you with resources.

Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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