There are two types of liver cancer, primary liver cancer and secondary liver cancer (hepatic metastasis). Unlike secondary cancers which start in another part of the body and spread to the liver, primary liver cancer begins from cells inside the liver. The two most common forms are hepatocellular carcinoma (also called hepatoma or HCC), and cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer). The good news is that many liver cancer tumors are very treatable with good odds for long, disease-free survival.
The most common form of secondary liver cancer is due to colorectal cancer metastases. If the disease is isolated to the liver, then patients may be candidates for liver directed therapies such as surgery, ablation, or chemoembolization.
The University of Michigan has one of the nation’s first and most respected multidisciplinary liver tumor programs—providing patients with comprehensive care, and offering treatment options not available at most other medical centers in the country.
Who’s at Risk for Liver Cancer?
Risk factors for hepatoma include most forms of chronic liver disease such as:
Risk factors for bile duct cancer include chronic diseases of the bile ducts such as primary sclerosing cholangitis.
Risk factors for secondary malignancy such as colorectal metastasis include a current or previous diagnosis of colorectal adenocarcinoma.
Liver Cancer Symptoms and Signs
Liver cancer is sometimes found on an ultrasound screening or during radiographic tests such as CT or MRI, and is still asymptomatic. In other cases, patients develop abdominal pain and symptoms of liver dysfunction such as:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
- Weight loss
- Fluid accumulation/swelling
Other liver cancer signs that may be noted on radiologic (imaging) testing include:
- Liver mass
- Bile duct obstruction
Reaching a Diagnosis for Liver Cancer
The diagnosis of liver cancer begins with a good quality CT scan or MRI. Not all CT/MRI scans are the same—our radiology experts use the latest technology and techniques to obtain better images, and specialize in looking at images of the liver. This allows us to make the diagnosis without biopsy 80% of the time.
In cases where biopsy is required, we use a special technique to avoid spreading the tumor.
Advanced, Personalized Treatment for Liver Cancer
There are many treatment options for liver cancer, and the list of choices can be confusing for patients and many physicians. At the University of Michigan’s multidisciplinary Liver Tumor Program we have a dedicated Liver Tumor Board that meets weekly and includes a team of experts in hepatology, surgery, medical oncology, radiation oncology, and diagnostic and interventional radiology. This group then prepares a personalized treatment plan for each patient.
Treatments offered at the University of Michigan for primary and secondary liver cancers include:
Surgical resection: Surgery to remove the cancerous portion of the liver, which in some cases can be done laparoscopically, leaving only small scars.
Liver transplantation: We are one of a handful of centers nationwide to offer liver transplantation for cholangiocarcinoma in addition to hepatocellular carcinoma.
Chemo-embolization: A minimally invasive procedure where chemotherapy beads are injected directly into the tumor.
Radio-embolization: Injection of radioactive beads directly into the tumor.
Radiofrequency ablation: A needle placed into the tumor uses radiofrequency waves to destroy tumor tissue, often without requiring surgery.
Stereotactic radiation: Also called radiosurgery, this technique uses a computer to concentrate radiation beams in precise locations.
Chemotherapy: We offer standard chemotherapy as well as access to many clinical trials unavailable elsewhere. Clinical trials offer hope to patients who have failed other treatments.
Expertise in Liver Surgery and Postoperative Care
We utilize the latest technologies for both open and laparascopic liver resection. The majority of patients do not require stays in the ICU. Our surgeons and hepatologists (liver specialists) also have expertise in liver transplantation along with vascular reconstruction techniques for more complicated liver resections. When future liver function is a higher concern, our surgeons work with our interventional radiologists to perform liver volumetric analysis and preoperative portal vein embolization to increase the size of the future liver remnant before surgery. Patients with existing liver disease in addition to liver or bile duct cancer are often able to safely undergo surgical resection of their cancer.
Global Pioneers in Radiation Therapy for Primary Liver Tumors
We have seen thousands of patients with liver tumors and actually developed the radiological (imaging) criteria to more accurately diagnose primary liver tumors (where the tumor originated). In fact, we have the largest funded research program in primary liver tumors in the U.S. and are worldwide pioneers in the radiation therapy for primary liver tumors.
Make an Appointment
To schedule an appointment to discuss your need for liver cancer treatment, call us at 800-865-1125.