Liver Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Stages and Treatments

Liver Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Stages and Treatments


By Dr. Ninad Katdare, Oncology

Liver cancer is a type of cancer that affects the cells present in the liver. The liver cells tend to function abnormally and also change in appearance. These cancerous cells start to affect other nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. Liver cancer is generally classified into two types:

  1. Primary Liver Cancer: In this case, the cancer begins in the liver.
  2. Secondary Liver Cancer: In case of secondary liver cancer, the cancer spreads from other parts of the body to the liver.


Liver cancer produces symptoms of rapid weight loss, itchy skin and fatigue. Lack of appetite combined with vomiting is also very common. Liver cancer may lead to jaundice and swelling in the stomach.


The exact cause of liver cancer is not known, but there are certain factors that may make one significantly vulnerable to this disorder.

  1. Excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risks of liver cancer.
  2. Being affected by viral infections.
  3. Damaged bile ducts in the liver.
  4. Haemochromatosis, a disorder wherein the levels of iron in the body rise significantly.
  5. Obesity coupled with an unhealthy lifestyle.

Stages of Liver Cancer-

Liver is staged according to various staging systems like Barcelona System, french staging system or the CLIP system. These system take into account the tumour size, fitness of patient, various blood parameters and a scoring called Child Pughs Score. This staging system determines whether the patient is a candidate for surgery- hepatectomy or transplant, regional therapies like TARE/TACE/RFA or for palliative therapies only.


The treatment options for liver cancer are –

  1. Surgery: Surgical procedures to treat liver cancer involve removing either a part or the entire liver, based on how far the liver cancer has progressed. A liver transplant is required in case the entire liver is excised.
  2. Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy in primary liver cancer is in the form of targeted tablet chemotherapy like Sorafenib. However if the liver cancer is spread from other organs then injectable chemotherapy is required.
  3. Surgery and ablation therapies: If tumor is small we can do Radio surgery otherwise called Cyberknife or SBRT Other option includes Radiofrequency ablation (RFA), Microwave ablation (MWA), Trans Arterial Chemo-embolisation (TACE), trans Arterial Radio-embolisation (TARE).