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There are different types of cancer that start in the liver. Find out about them.

Benign liver growths (non cancerous growths)

Most growths in the liver are benign. These are not cancer. Many benign growths can be treated without surgery, although some do need an operation. Benign growths of the liver do not go on to develop into cancer.

The most common types of benign growths of the liver are:
  • haemangioma
  • hepatic adenoma
  • focal nodular hyperplasia

Primary and secondary liver cancer

Cancers are named after the type of cell and part of the body they first begin to grow. This is the primary cancer.

These cells can break away from the primary site and travel to other parts of the body in the blood or lymphatic system. The cells eventually lodge in another body organ and begin to grow there. This is called a secondary cancer. Although the cells are still the same type - that of the primary cancer.

This is important because cancers are treated according to the original cell type. So for example, secondary breast cancers that have spread to the liver are treated with breast cancer treatments, because the cancer cells in the liver are breast cancer cells.

In the UK, most cancers found in the liver are secondary cancer. If you've had cancer elsewhere before you developed cancer in your liver, this is not the right section for you. You need to look at our page about secondary liver cancer or go to the section for your type of primary cancer.

There are 4 main types of primary liver cancer. 

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)

This is also sometimes called hepatoma or HCC. It's the most common type of primary liver cancer. The information in this section is mainly about hepatocellular cancers. Hepatocellular means liver cells. Carcinoma means cancer.

This type of liver cancer develops from the main liver cells called hepatocytes. It's more common in people who have a damaged liver from cirrhosis. It is much more likely to develop in men than in women and becomes more common as people get older.

Fibrolamellar carcinomac

Fibrolamellar carcinoma is a rare sub type of hepatocellular cancer (HCC). Fibro refers to fibrous tissue and lamellar refers to the plate like structure of the cells.

Fibrolamellar carcinoma tends to develop in younger people, and is not usually linked with cirrhosis or infection with hepatitis B or C.

The other main difference is that people with fibrolamellar carcinomas do not usually have higher levels of the protein alpha fetoprotein (AFP) in their blood. Like HCC, surgery is the main treatment. If it can be removed with surgery, fibrolamellar carcinoma may have a better outlook than HCC.

Cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer)

Cholangio actually refers to the bile ducts. The liver makes bile, which helps digest fats in food, and flows through tubes called bile ducts into the gallbladder.

Cancer can start anywhere along the bile ducts. Cancers that start in the section of the ducts inside the liver are called intra hepatic cholangiocarcinoma and is classed as a type of primary liver cancer.

Cancers that start in the section of ducts outside the liver are called extra hepatic cholangiocarcinoma.

Both types of cholangiocarcinoma are treated as bile duct cancer.


Angiosarcoma can also be called haemangiosarcoma. This type of cancer begins in the blood vessels of the liver, and is extremely rare. Only around 10 cases of angiosarcoma of the liver are diagnosed each year in the UK. It's most often diagnosed in people in their 70s and 80s. It is a type of soft tissue sarcoma.


Hepatoblastoma is a very rare type of primary liver cancer that usually affects young children. It is most often diagnosed in children under 3. In the UK, there are around 20 cases of hepatoblastoma diagnosed each year. Doctors usually treat it with surgery and chemotherapy.

Last reviewed: 
28 Feb 2015
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