Primary liver cancer, also called hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), is the fifth most common cancer in the world. In many cases, the development of cirrhosis (extensive liver scarring) leads to the development of liver cancer. The most common causes of cirrhosis and HCC worldwide are viral hepatitis B and C. In the United States, the most common causes are hepatitis C and fatty liver disease caused by alcohol and metabolic syndrome, a set of risk factors that often includes diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
Other conditions that can cause cirrhosis and HCC include chronic biliary obstruction (primary biliary cholangitis), autoimmune disorders, and hereditary conditions such as iron overload (hemochromatosis), copper overload (Wilson's disease), or alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency. Other types of cancer found in the liver include gallbladder cancer, bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma), and primary liver lymphoma.
Fox Chase Cancer Center has a unique history relating to the discovery of the hepatitis B virus as a carcinogen. The late Baruch S. Blumberg, MD, PhD, received the 1976 Nobel Prize in medicine for identifying the hepatitis B virus as one of the major causes of liver cancer. His Fox Chase laboratory group created the first highly effective vaccine capable of preventing a human cancer, the hepatitis B vaccine, which Merck introduced in 1982. The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends the use of this vaccine in all children.
Cancerous liver tumors originating from another source (e.g., colon, stomach, or lung) are called liver metastases. Benign lesions, such as simple cysts, hemangiomas (blood vessel tumors), focal nodular hyperplasia (FNH), biliary harmatomas or adenomas, may also be found in the liver.