As the largest internal organ, the liver serves many vital functions; it breaks down and stores nutrients, produces clotting factors that prevent excessive bleeding, and filters and breaks down toxins to then be expelled as waste. Liver cancers interfere with these important functions.
‘Primary’ means that a cancer originates in that organ. ‘Secondary’ means that a cancer has spread from its primary site to a secondary organs. Therefore, in primary liver cancer, the cancer originates in the liver. There are multiple types of primary liver cancers:
- Hepatocellular carcinoma (hepatocellular cancer) is the most common form of liver cancer responsible for 4 out of 5 primary liver cancers. It has two possible growth patterns, a single tumor metastasizing late in the disease or many small cancer nodules throughout the liver which is more prevalent.
- Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer) only occurs in 10-20% of primary liver cancers. This type affects cells in the small bile ducts. The function of the tubes connected to these ducts are to carry bile to the gallbladder.
The risk of developing Hepatocellular carcinoma is much higher in people with a family history of liver cancer (NCBI). Patients with a first-degree family history of liver cancer (such as a parent, sibling or child) are ~ four times more likely to develop liver cancer than individuals without such a family history. People with hereditary hemochromatosis, one of the most prevalent genetic disorders in America, are also at an increased risk to develop liver cancer. Other risk factors include chronic infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV), chronic infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV), heavy alcohol use, diabetes, obesity, and smoking.