Liver cancer

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Cancerous tumours of the liver

A cancerous tumour that starts in the cells of the liver is called primary liver cancer. It can invade, or grow into, and destroy nearby tissue. It can also spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body. Cancerous tumours are also called malignant tumours.

Hepatocellular carcinoma

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of primary liver cancer. It starts in hepatocytes, which are cells that make up the body of the liver.

HCC can develop in different ways. In people who have scarring of the liver (called cirrhosis), HCC may develop as a single tumour that can get very large if not detected early. It also often starts in more than one lobe in the liver at the same time.

Fibrolamellar carcinoma is a type, or variant, of HCC. It is the type of liver cancer most likely to develop in women under 40 years of age. They are large, slow-growing tumours. They do not grow deeply into surrounding tissues. They can often be completely removed with surgery.

Intrahepatic bile duct cancer

The bile ducts are the tubes that carry bile (a yellow-green fluid that helps digest fat) from the liver to the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine).

When cancer starts in a bile duct inside the liver, it is called intrahepatic bile duct cancer. Cholangiocarcinoma is another term used to describe intrahepatic bile duct cancers.

This type of cancer is treated like HCC, usually with surgery. Find out more about intrahepatic bile duct cancer.

Rare primary liver tumours

The following cancerous tumours can start in the liver, but they are rare:

These tumours are usually treated with surgery. Chemotherapy may be offered to treat tumours that cannot be removed by surgery or to shrink tumours before surgery.

Liver metastasis

In Canada, liver metastasis is much more common than primary liver cancer. Liver metastasis is cancer that started somewhere else in the body and spread to the liver. The tumour in the liver is made up of the type of cells where the cancer started, not liver cells.

For example, colorectal cancer often spreads to the liver. It is called colorectal cancer with liver metastasis. It would be treated like a colorectal cancer, not a primary liver cancer.

Find out more about liver metastases.


A part or section of an organ that is separated by a boundary such as a membrane or ligament.

Examples include the lobes of the liver, lungs or brain.