The different types of cells that are found in the liver can form different types of tumors. These tumors can either be cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign). The treatment of liver cancer depends on the kind of tumor, the cause, number and size of the tumor. Each of these tumors have different prognosis.
Liver cancer can be of three primary categories, benign liver tumors, primary liver cancer and secondary or metastatic liver cancer.
Primary liver cancer
Primary liver cancer is the kind of cancer that has originated in the liver. Primary liver cancer consists of different types like hepatocellular carcinoma, intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma, angiosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, and hepatoblastoma.
Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common type of primary liver cancer. In this type of primary liver cancer the cancer mainly develops in the main cells of the liver that are known as hepatocytes. It is seen to be more common in people who have a damaged liver from conditions like cirrhosis. Hepatocellular cancer can also have different growth patterns like some begin as a small single tumor that later grows larger. The second growth pattern is when there are many small cancer nodules throughout the liver and it is not just a single tumor.
A few cancers that start in the liver are intrahepatic cholangiocarcinomas. This type is also known as bile duct cancer. The cancer starts in the cells that line the bile duct. Most cholangiocarcinomas start in the bile ducts outside the liver.
Angiosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma
These are very rare cancers that start in cells that line the blood vessels. These type of cancers are mostly seen in people who are exposed to chemicals like vinyl chloride and thorotrast. These cancers can also be caused due to exposure to arsenic or radium or even due to inherited conditions. These tumors grow fast and spread widely to be surgically removed so the most common treatment options are chemotherapy and radiation.
This is a very rare type of cancer that is usually seen in children below the age of 4. Hepatoblastomas originate from immature liver precursor cells. Treatment for this kind of cancer is usually surgery with chemotherapy.
Secondary liver cancer
Secondary liver cancer is also known as metastatic liver cancer and means that the cancer has spread from somewhere else in the body to the liver. The tumors that are found in secondary liver cancer are named and treated based on the site of origin or their primary site.
Benign liver tumors
Benign tumors can also grow large enough to cause problems for people. However, these tumors don’t grow into the nearby tissues nor do they spread to distant sites. Benign liver tumors are of three types:
These type of tumors start in the blood vessels and most do not cause any kind of symptoms. Sometimes these tumors can cause bleeding and may need to be removed surgically.
2. Hepatic adenoma
These type of tumors start from the main liver cells, which are known as hepatocytes. Most don’t cause any symptoms and do not need treatment but however there are some that can cause symptoms like pain and swelling in the abdomen. If these tumors burst they cause severe blood loss and most doctors recommend surgically removing these type of tumors to prevent such complications.
3. Focal nodular hyperplasia
Focal nodular hyperplasia is a tumor like growth that is made up of several cells like hepatocytes, bile duct cells and connective tissue cells. Though these tumors are benign it is hard to differentiate them from cancerous tumors and for this reason, doctors recommend removing them especially when the diagnosis is unclear.
Read more on the side effects of radiation therapy in the treatment of liver cancer.