Types of primary liver cancer

Primary liver cancer is rare in the UK, but the number of people developing it is increasing. Around 4,200 people in the UK are diagnosed with it each year. In other parts of the world, such as some parts of Africa and Asia, it’s one of the most common cancers. Primary liver cancer is much more common in men than in women. It is more likely to affect people as they get older.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of primary liver cancer. It’s sometimes called hepatoma. It starts in the main cells of the liver, called hepatocytes.

HCC is more common in people with a chronic (ongoing) liver disease, usually cirrhosis. A rare type of HCC called fibrolamellar HCC usually affects younger women and is not related to previous liver disease.

There is another less common primary liver cancer called cholangiocarcinoma (or bile duct cancer). This starts in the cells lining the bile duct. Angiosarcoma is a very rare type of liver cancer, which starts in the blood vessels of the liver. 

This information is about hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of primary liver cancer.

Some primary tumours in the liver are non-cancerous (benign). They are usually small and often found by chance. They don’t usually become cancerous and don’t usually need to be removed.

Back to Understanding primary liver cancer

What is cancer?

There are more than 200 different kinds of cancer, each with its own name and treatment.

The liver

The liver is the largest organ in the body. It carries out important functions.

Symptoms of primary liver cancer

There are different symptoms for HCC, but often none in the early stage. Always see your doctor with any symptoms you may have.