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Liver Cancer

The liver, one of the largest organs of the body, has many important functions that keep a person healthy. It removes harmful material from the blood, produces enzymes and bile that help digest food and converts food into substances needed for life and growth.

Cancer of the liver, which may be primary or secondary cancer, involves an uncontrolled growth of cells. Primary cancer arises within the liver and in its early stages exists only in the liver. Secondary liver cancer, also called metastatic cancer, originates in another organ, such as the colon, stomach, pancreas or breast and then spreads to the liver. Because secondary cancer is present in at least two organs, the treatment possibilities are more limited than for primary liver cancer.

Primary liver cancer can affect anyone, but it occurs most frequently in people with advanced liver disease. In the United States, the risk is greatest for those with longstanding hepatitis B, advanced hepatitis C and cirrhosis. Because hepatitis viruses are so widespread, liver cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death worldwide.

Certain inherited conditions also predispose a person to liver cancer, including tyrosinemia in children, a rare disorder in which the body can't effectively break down the amino acid tyrosine, and untreated hemochromatosis, a disorder that causes the body to absorb and store too much iron, in adults. Common to all these conditions is chronic liver inflammation and injury.

One of the objectives of current research at UCSF is to determine why liver inflammation and injury lead to liver cancer.

Our Approach to Liver Cancer

UCSF offers the most advanced and effective treatments available for liver cancer. These include surgical removal of liver tumors as well as chemotherapy administered directly to the tumor or throughout the body.

For some patients, liver transplant may be an effective option. A pioneer of making transplantation safer and more successful, UCSF's liver transplant program is known for outstanding outcomes.

Awards & recognition

  • usnews-neurology

    Among the top hospitals in the nation

  • Best in Northern California for cancer care (tie)

  • One of the nation's best in gastroenterology & GI surgery

  • NIH-2x

    Designated comprehensive cancer center

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.