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Types of liver cancer

Your cancer type depends on the type of cell that the cancer started in.

What is primary liver cancer?

Primary liver cancer is cancer that started in the liver. There are 5 main types.

If your cancer began somewhere else and then spread to the liver look at our section on secondary liver cancer.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)

Hepatocellular carcinoma is also called hepatoma or HCC. It's the most common type of primary liver cancer. Because of this, the information in the primary liver cancer section is mostly about hepatocellular cancers.

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. Cirrhosis means scarring of the liver due to previous damage, such as from the hepatitis B or C virus or long term alcohol drinking.

Hepatocellular carcinoma is more likely to develop in men than in women and becomes more common as you get older.

Fibrolamellar carcinoma

Fibrolamellar carcinoma is a rare sub type of hepatocellular cancer (HCC).

Fibrolamellar carcinoma tends to develop in people in their 20’s or 30’s, and it’s not usually linked with cirrhosis or infection with hepatitis B or C.

The other main difference is that people with fibrolamellar carcinomas don’t usually have higher levels of alpha fetoprotein (AFP) in their blood. 

Cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer)

Cholangio refers to the bile ducts, so cholangiocarcinoma is cancer of the bile ducts. The bile ducts are tubes that connect the liver and gallbladder to the small bowel. The bile ducts carry bile, which is made by the liver. Bile helps to digest fats in food.

Bile duct cancer is rare. Cancer that starts in the section of ducts outside the liver is called extrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma. Cancer that starts in the section of ducts inside the liver is called intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma. Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma is classed as a type of primary liver cancer, but is treated as bile duct cancer.

Diagram showing the position of the intraheptic bile ducts

Angiosarcoma

Angiosarcoma is also known as haemangiosarcoma. This type of cancer begins in the blood vessels of the liver, and is extremely rare. Only around 15 people in the UK are diagnosed with angiosarcoma of the liver each year. 

Angiosarcoma is most often diagnosed in people in their 70s and 80s. It’s a type of soft tissue sarcoma.

Hepatoblastoma

Hepatoblastoma is a very rare type of primary liver cancer that usually affects young children. It's most often diagnosed in children under 3.

Only around 25 people in the UK are diagnosed with hepatoblastoma each year. Chemotherapy and surgery are the main treatments.

Benign liver growths (non cancerous growths)

Most growths (tumours) in the liver are benign. They aren’t cancer and won’t become cancerous (malignant) in the future.

Benign tumours do not usually need treatment. This can depend on the size of the tumour and whether it's causing symptoms.

The most common types of benign tumours in the liver are:

  • haemangioma
  • hepatic adenoma
  • focal nodular hyperplasia
Last reviewed: 
01 May 2018
  • Textbook of Uncommon Cancers (5th edition)
    D Raghavan, MS Ahluwalia, CD Blanke and others 
    Wiley Blackwell, 2017

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition)
    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma: ESMO-ESDO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
    C Verslype and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2012. Volume 23, Pages 41-48

  • Incidence figures provided by the Statistical Information Team at Cancer Research UK (based on data from 2013-2015)

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