Liver and Biliary Tract Cancer

Expert liver and biliary cancer care based on your needs.

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Liver cancer patient speaking with Legacy Health cancer specialist

What you need to know about liver and biliary tract cancer

Different types of cancers may grow in the liver or biliary tract, which includes the bile ducts and gallbladder. Treatment depends on the type and extent of the cancer. The Legacy Cancer Institute provides compassion, expertise and a personalized treatment plan for you.

Cancer that starts in the liver is called primary liver cancer. The main types of primary liver cancer include:

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma. This is the most common liver cancer. About 4 out of every 5 primary liver cancers are this type. It starts in the main liver cells called hepatocytes.
  • Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma.  About 10% to 20% of all liver cancers are cholangiocarcinomas. These cancers start in the bile ducts. These are small tubes that carry bile out of the liver and into the gallbladder and intestines during digestion. This type of cancer can also start in the bile ducts outside the liver.
  • Hepatoblastoma. This is a very rare liver cancer. It's most often found in young children.
  • Angiosarcoma. This is another rare form of liver cancer. It starts in blood vessels inside the liver.

Cancer that starts elsewhere but has spread to the liver is called secondary or metastatic liver cancer. It may be present at your first cancer diagnosis or may develop during or after treatment. 

Symptoms of liver cancer

Liver cancer often does not cause symptoms in its early stages, when it's small and hasn't spread. In fact, many liver cancers don't cause symptoms until they have grown fairly large. 

People with liver cancer may have these symptoms:

  • Unplanned weight loss
  • Change in eating habits. This may be a sudden loss of appetite that lasts for a long time or feeling very full even after very small meals.
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • A lump or mass in the upper-right side of your belly (abdomen).  Your liver might become enlarged. This can sometimes be felt as a lump or mass under your right ribs.
  • Belly pain. Some people might also have pain at the right shoulder blade.
  • Abdominal swelling. This can be caused by fluid building up in your abdomen (called ascites). Some people may have enlarged veins on their belly, too.
  • Jaundice or itching. Yellowing of the whites of your eyes and skin (jaundice) is caused by the buildup of too much bilirubin in your blood. This is a chemical made by the liver. Too much of it can also cause severe itching.
  • Fever
  • Easy bleeding and bruising
  • Feeling very tired or weak

Many of these symptoms can be caused by other health problems. Still, it's important to see a healthcare provider if you have these symptoms. Only a healthcare provider can tell if you have liver cancer.

Liver and biliary tract cancer specialists

Legacy Cancer Institute, located in Portland, OR, ranks among the nation's best cancer programs. We have a team of cancer specialists who work together to diagnose and develop a personalized treatment plan for you. Find the right provider and treatment close to home.

Legacy Cancer Institute is accredited as an integrated network cancer program by the American College of surgeons Commission on Cancer (CoC). Learn more about our quality cancer care.

To learn more about liver and biliary tract cancers, contact our nurse navigators at 503-413-8888

Next steps after a liver or biliary tract cancer diagnosis

Being told you have liver cancer can be scary, and you may have many questions. It’s normal to feel afraid. Learning about the cancer and about your treatment options can help you feel less afraid. 

At this point, you’ve likely had a physical exam and reviewed your health history with your provider. You may have also had a biopsy to confirm your diagnosis. Following a diagnosis of liver or biliary tract cancer, you may have more tests to help your doctor understand your cancer stage.

Cancer staging includes identifying where the cancer is located, if or where it has spread, and if it is affecting other parts of your body. Knowing the stage allows your doctor to develop your personalized treatment plan.

Some tests your doctor may now recommend include:

  • CT scan, MRI or positron emission tomography (PET): Imaging technology to look inside the body
  • Ultrasound: Uses sound waves to explore internal organs. 
  • Other tests: You may also have blood tests, and possibly laparoscopy (minimally invasive surgery) to look at the extent of the cancer.

Customized treatment plans

Because each person and every cancer is different, your doctor uses your tests and exams to come up with an individual treatment plan. How long this takes depends on how complex your case is and your treatment goals. During this time, you build a relationship with your cancer doctors. You become a team for your care.

Open, honest communication can only benefit your relationship with your doctors. These tips can also help you get the most from this partnership:

  • Prepare in advance: Write down your questions ahead of your visits. A few examples of smart questions:
    • Why are we doing these tests?
    • Why do you think this treatment is right?
    • What side effects might this treatment cause?
  • Find trustworthy resources: If you’re looking to learn more, rely on this website or sources your team recommends, so you can make decisions based on good information.
  • Take a partner: Bringing a friend or family member to appointments can make you feel more confident and help you remember important details.

Depending on the type and location of the liver or biliary cancer, treatments such as surgery, interventional, radiology treatment, chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be offered.

More support

You are not alone. Legacy offers support throughout your cancer journey, as well as care for your emotional, social and spiritual needs.

Nurse navigators
Legacy Cancer Healing Center 
Support groups and classes
Cancer rehabilitation 
Survivorship services