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UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

Liver Cancer

News & Features

Rodney Calles 

Cancer survivor shares his story  

Rodney Calles underwent surgical procedures to remove portions of his colon and liver as part of a comprehensive cancer treatment.

Be Smart with Body Art - arm tatoo 

Be smart with body art  

Spreading the word about the risks of hepatitis C from tattooing and body-piercing.

Asian family  

Projected surge in liver cancer among Asian American and Pacific Islanders  

Raising awareness of liver cancer risk to carriers of hepatitis B virus.

New Patient Support

Peer Navigator Program 

Peer navigator program provides one-to-one peer support  

This special program matches newly-diagnosed cancer patients with cancer survivors.

Related Resources

liver cancer cellAdult primary liver cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the liver. 

The liver is one of the largest organs in the body. It has four lobes and fills the upper right side of the abdomen inside the rib cage. The liver has many important functions, including:

  • Filtering harmful substances from the blood so they can be passed from the body in stools and urine
  • Making bile to help digest fats from food
  • Storing glycogen (sugar), which the body uses for energy

The UC Davis liver cancer program utilizes a full team of professionals and revolutionary techniques to treat patients and relieve them of their symptoms.

Clinical Trials at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center
UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center has a large clinical trials network. The close collaboration among our doctors and our research scientists means that new drugs and treatments developed in the laboratory can quickly move to the clinic, offering our patients immediate access to the latest therapies.

Risk Factors

  • Having hepatitis B and/or hepatitis C
  • Having a close relative with both hepatitis and liver cancer
  • Having cirrhosis
  • Eating foods tainted with aflatoxin (poison from a fungus that can grow on foods, such as grains and nuts that have not been stored properly)

Sources: National Cancer Institute and UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center 

Signs and Symptoms

  • A hard lump on the right side just below the rib cage
  • Discomfort in the upper abdomen on the right side
  • Pain around the right shoulder blade
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite

Sources: National Cancer Institute and UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center 

Diagnosis

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken. 
  • Serum tumor marker test: A procedure in which a sample of blood is examined to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs, tissues, or tumor cells in the body. Certain substances are linked to specific types of cancer when found in increased levels in the blood. These are called tumor markers. An increased level of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) in the blood may be a sign of liver cancer. Other cancers and certain noncancerous conditions, including cirrhosis and hepatitis, may also increase AFP levels. 
  • Complete blood count (CBC): A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the following: 
  • Laparoscopy: A surgical procedure to look at the organs inside the abdomen to check for signs of disease. Small incisions (cuts) are made in the wall of the abdomen and a laparoscope (a thin, lighted tube) is inserted into one of the incisions. Other instruments may be inserted through the same or other incisions to perform procedures such as removing organs or taking tissue samples for biopsy. 
  • Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. The sample may be taken using a thin needle inserted into the liver during an x-ray or ultrasound. This is called a fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy. The biopsy may be done during a laparoscopy
  • CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography. 
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI). 
  • Ultrasound exam: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. The picture can be printed to be looked at later.

Sources: National Cancer Institute and UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center 

Treatment

Surgery
The following types of surgery may be used to treat liver cancer:

  • Cryosurgery: A treatment that uses an instrument to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue, such as carcinoma in situ. This type of treatment is also called cryotherapy. The doctor may use ultrasound to guide the instrument. 
  • Partial hepatectomy: Removal of the part of the liver where cancer is found. The part removed may be a wedge of tissue, an entire lobe, or a larger portion of the liver, along with some of the healthy tissue around it. The remaining liver tissue takes over the functions of the liver. 
  • Total hepatectomy and liver transplant: Removal of the entire liver and replacement with a healthy donated liver. A liver transplant may be done when the disease is in the liver only and a donated liver can be found. If the patient has to wait for a donated liver, other treatment is given as needed. 
  • Radiofrequency ablation: The use of a special probe with tiny electrodes that kill cancer
    cells. Sometimes the probe is inserted directly through the skin and only local anesthesia is needed. In other cases, the probe is inserted through an incision in the abdomen. This is done in the hospital with general anesthesia.

Radiation therapy 
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. Radiation therapy is given in different ways:

  • External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. 
  • Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. 
  • Drugs called radiosensitizers may be given with the radiation therapy to make the cancer cells more sensitive to radiation therapy. 
  • Radiation may be delivered to the tumor using radiolabeled antibodies. Radioactive substances are attached to antibodies made in the laboratory. These antibodies, which target tumor cells, are injected into the body and the tumor cells are killed by the radioactive substance.

The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the spinal column, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy).

Regional chemotherapy is usually used to treat liver cancer. A small pump containing anticancer drugs may be placed in the body. The pump puts the drugs directly into the blood vessels that go to the tumor.

Another type of regional chemotherapy is chemoembolization of the hepatic artery. The anticancer drug is injected into the hepatic artery through a catheter (thin tube). The drug is mixed with a substance that blocks the artery, cutting off blood flow to the tumor. Most of the anticancer drug is trapped near the tumor and only a small amount of the drug reaches other parts of the body. The blockage may be temporary or permanent, depending on the substance used to block the artery. The tumor is prevented from getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs to grow. The liver continues to receive blood from the hepatic portal vein, which carries blood from the stomach and intestine.

The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Percutaneous ethanol injection
Percutaneous ethanol injection is a cancer treatment in which a small needle is used to inject ethanol (alcohol) directly into a tumor to kill cancer cells. The procedure may be done once or twice a week. Usually local anesthesia is used, but if the patient has many tumors in the liver, general anesthesia may be needed.

Sources: National Cancer Institute and UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center 

Your Team

Diagnostic Radiology

John P. McGahan, M.D.
Professor of Radiology
Chief of Abdominal Imaging and Ultrasound

C. John Rosenquist, M.D.
Professor of Radiology
Chief of Gastrointestinal Radiology

Gastroenterology

Joseph W. Leung, M.D.
Professor of Medicine
Chief of Gastroenterology

Thomas Prindiville, M.D.
Professor of Medicine, Gastroenterology

Shiro Urayama, M.D.
Associate Professor of Medicine, Gastroenterology

Hematology and Oncology

I-Yeh Gong, M.D.
Associate Professor of Medicine, Hematology and Oncology

Edward Kim, M.D., Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Medicine, Hematology and Oncology

Jerry S. Powell, M.D. 
Director, Hemophilia and Thrombosis Center
Professor of Internal Medicine, Hematology and Oncology

Thomas J. Semrad, M.D., M.A.S.
Assistant Professor of Medicine, Hematology and Oncology

Michael Tanaka, Jr., M.D.
Associate Professor of Medicine, Hematology and Oncology

Surgical Oncology

Richard J. Bold, M.D.
Professor and Chief of Surgical Oncology

Vijay Khatri, M.D.
Professor of Surgical Oncology
Director of Faculty Development and Mentoring

Robert J. Canter, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Surgical Oncology

Support

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