A non-cancerous, or benign, tumour of the liver is a growth that does not spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Non-cancerous tumours are not usually life-threatening.
Many people don’t know that they have a non-cancerous liver tumour because they usually don’t cause symptoms. They are usually found when someone has an ultrasound or a CT scan to look for another health problem.
Most non-cancerous liver tumours don’t need to be treated. Surgery may be done if the tumour causes pain, breaks open (ruptures) and starts bleeding, blocks the bile ducts or grows bigger than 5 cm.
There are several types of non-cancerous tumours of the liver.
Hemangioma is the most common non-cancerous liver tumour. It is made up of abnormal blood vessels. Women are more likely to develop hemangioma than men.
Focal nodular hyperplasia is the second most common non-cancerous tumour of the liver. It is most commonly found in women between the ages of 20 and 30.
Hepatic adenomas are rare. They can develop as one tumour or as many tumours throughout the liver. They are more common in women of childbearing age and develop more often in women who use oral contraceptives. In the past, higher doses of estrogen were used in oral contraceptives, but today the risk of developing this type of cancer is lower because the dose of estrogen in oral contraceptives is lower.
The risk of developing hepatic adenoma is also higher in people who use anabolic steroids or who have type I diabetes.
Hepatic cystadenoma is a very rare type of non-cancerous liver tumour. The tumour is often found in several areas of the liver (called multifocal). Doctors don’t know what the risk factors are for this type of tumour, but they are more common in women.
A hepatic cystadenoma can become cancerous, or malignant, especially if they grow large. For this reason, doctors will remove them with surgery. Unfortunately, these tumours often come back, or recur, after they are removed.
Liver cysts are sacs filled with fluid or semi-solid material. They may be present at birth (called congenital cysts) or they may develop later in life. Most liver cysts grow very slowly and rarely cause any symptoms. Doctors will drain them or remove them with surgery if they cause symptoms such as pain.