Types of liver cancer

Primary liver cancer is rare but increasing in the UK. The most common type is called hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

Types of primary liver cancer

There are four main types of cancer that start in the liver:

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)
  • Fibrolamellar HCC
  • Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma)
  • Angiosarcoma

We also have information about cancer that starts somewhere else in the body and spreads to the liver. This is called secondary cancer in the liver.

Some tumours in the liver are not cancerous (benign). They are usually small and are often found by chance. This might happen when a person is having a scan for another reason. Benign tumours do not usually develop into cancer and doctors do not usually remove them.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of primary liver cancer. It is sometimes called hepatoma. It starts in the main cells of the liver, called hepatocytes. It is rare in the UK, but the number of people developing the condition is increasing. 

Fibrolamellar HCC

This is a rare type of liver cancer that usually affects younger people. The causes and risk factors are not known.

Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma)

Bile duct cancer is another type of liver cancer. It starts in the cells lining the bile duct. The bile ducts are part of the digestive system.

Angiosarcoma

Angiosarcoma is a very rare type of liver cancer, which starts in the blood vessels of the liver. It is a type of soft tissue sarcoma. Angiosarcomas can also start in other blood vessels or in lymph vessels.

Angiosarcomas that develop from blood vessels are called haemangiosarcomas.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our primary liver cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Melloul E, Hübner M, Scott M, et al. Guidelines for perioperative care for liver surgery: Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) Society recommendations. World J Surg. 2016; 40: 2425–2440. Available from: doi.org/10.1007/s00268-016-3700-1 [accessed Feb 2020] 

    NICE. Lenvatinib for untreated advanced hepatocellular carcinoma: Technology appraisal guidance (TA 551) [Internet]. 2018. Available from: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/TA551 [accessed Feb 2020] 

    NICE. Liver disease. Quality standard (QS 152) [Internet]. 2017. Available from: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/QS152 [accessed Feb 2020] 

    NICE. Liver cancers overview [Internet]. 2019. Available from: pathways.nice.org.uk/pathways/liver-cancers/liver-cancers-overview [accessed Feb 2020]

    NICE. Regorafenib for previously treated advanced hepatocellular carcinoma. Technology appraisal guidance (TA555) [Internet]. 2019. Available from: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ta555 [accessed Feb 2020]

    Vogel A, Cervantes A, Chau I, et al. Hepatocellular carcinoma: ESMO Clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology. 2018; 29 (S4): iv238–iv255. Available from doi.org/10.1093/annonc/mdy510 [accessed Feb 2020]    


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Dr Paul Ross, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

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