Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Center for Liver Disease & Transplantation

Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), also called hepatoma, is the most common type of primary liver cancer and one of the leading causes of cancer deaths around the world. In the United States, most patients with malignant liver tumors have metastatic cancer that has spread from another site, such as the breast or the colon. However, patients who have chronic hepatitis C, alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), or a family history of the disease are considered to be at risk for HCC.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of HCC

In all but its most advanced stages, hepatocellular carcinoma causes few if any detectable symptoms. By the time the patient starts experiencing symptoms such as upper-right abdominal pain, jaundice, and weight loss, the cancer is usually too large to treat through surgery.

However, if the cancer is diagnosed while tumors are still small, many patients enjoy a 5-year survival rate of 50 percent or more if treated with partial hepatectomy or transplantation. For this reason, patients with one or more risk factors for hepatocellular carcinoma—including cirrhosis, viral hepatitis, or a family history of HCC—should be screened for the disease every 6 months.

Screening for HCC includes an alphafetoprotein (AFP) blood test and an ultrasound examination of the liver. Elevated levels of AFP, a protein produced by the liver, can indicate tumor growth, and the ultrasound can detect nodules in the liver. If these tests prove inconclusive, a liver biopsy may be necessary.

Treatment of HCC

See Treating Liver Cancer.

To find out more about the Methodist Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation, call us at 713-441-8839 or 866-94-LIVER (866-945-4837) or send us an email.