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Liver cancer develops when healthy cells undergo abnormal DNA changes that cause them to grow and divide uncontrollably. There are two main types of liver cancer: primary liver cancer, which originates in the liver, and secondary liver cancer, which spreads to the liver after developing in another area of the body. The cancerous cells in the liver can bind together and form tumors, then spread to other organs and tissues, such as the lungs and bones.

Primary liver cancer

Primary liver cancer can affect multiple parts of the liver at the same time. There are several types, including:

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma – The most common form of primary liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma develops in liver tissues and occurs primarily in individuals with a chronic liver disease, such as cirrhosis or hepatitis B or C.
  • Cholangiocarcinoma – Also known as bile duct cancer, cholangiocarcinoma is a relatively uncommon and aggressive malignancy that forms in the thin tubes that move bile from the liver and gallbladder to the small intestine.
  • Hepatoblastoma – A rare cancer that primarily affects infants and young children, hepatoblastoma cells are similar to fetal liver cells and usually bind together to form a large and painful liver mass. Sometimes, the cancer promotes the release of hormones that result in early puberty.
  • Hepatic angiosarcoma – An uncommon and aggressive malignancy, hepatic angiosarcoma originates in the blood vessels of the liver.

Secondary liver cancer

Cancer that spreads to the liver after developing in another part of the body is referred to as the same type of cancer as the primary cancer. For instance, if colorectal cancer spreads to the liver, the liver tumor is classified as metastatic colorectal cancer, not liver cancer. In addition to metastatic colorectal cancer, some common types of secondary liver cancer include:

  • Metastatic breast cancer
  • Metastatic esophageal cancer
  • Metastatic stomach cancer
  • Metastatic pancreatic cancer
  • Metastatic lung cancer
  • Metastatic kidney cancer
  • Metastatic melanoma

If you would like more information about the various types of liver cancer, you are welcome to talk with a specialist in the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. To request an appointment, please call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online.