What types of liver cancer are there?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

The four types of liver cancer are angiosarcoma, hepatoblastoma, cholangiocarcinoma, and hepatocellular carcinoma. Angiosarcoma is a rare cancer that begins in the liver blood vessels. Hepatoblastoma is also rare and most frequently affects children younger than the age of 4. Cholangiocarcinoma begins in the bile ducts of the liver. Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common liver cancer and begins in the main liver cells. Additionally, liver cancer is called metastatic if it is the result of cancer that spread from another body part to the liver.

Primary liver cancer is when the cancer starts in the liver, and secondary liver cancer is when the cancer starts somewhere else in the body and then spreads to the liver. These are the two types of liver cancer.

Liver cancer may be either secondary, originating from a cancer somewhere else in the body such as the breast or colon, or it may be primary, originating in the liver. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common primary liver cancer and usually occurs as consequence of damage inflicted by chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis. If the patient's liver function is not already excessively compromised by liver disease and if the cancer has not spread and tumors are limited in scope and size, primary liver cancer can be successfully treated through surgical removal of tumors or liver transplant.

Fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma (FHC) is a distinct form of primary liver cancer and is not typically associated with cirrhosis. It often occurs in young adults. Prognosis of FHC is much better than that of HCC, with 50-75 percent of cases being operable. Long term survival is common.

Secondary liver cancers include:

  • Cholangiocarcinoma (CCA), primary cancer of the bile ducts
  • Neuroendocrine tumors, which originate in the neuroendocrine system. The liver is a common site for this type of cancer to spread, and is often the cause of death from neuroendocrine cancer.
  • Colon cancer that has spread to the liver
  • Melanoma
  • Breast cancer

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.