Types of Liver Cancer and Related Conditions

Because the liver is made up of several types of cells, several types of tumors can form in the liver. Some are malignant (cancerous), and some are benign (noncancerous).

Types of Primary Liver Cancer

The team at the multidisciplinary Liver Tumor Clinic treats all forms of liver cancer. Most primary liver cancers fall into one of two types: hepatocellular carcinoma and intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma.

Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Roughly 80 percent of primary liver cancers are hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs). HCC begins in liver cells called hepatocytes. It occurs most often in people whose livers have been damaged, such as by chronic infection with the hepatitis B or C virus or by alcohol abuse. People with diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and obesity (metabolic syndrome) are also at increased risk for HCC, probably because they develop fatty liver disease. A small proportion of HCC may arise from benign tumors called hepatic adenomas. Hepatocellular carcinoma is also called hepatocellular cancer or hepatoma.

Intrahepatic Cholangiocarcinoma

Most other primary liver cancers are intrahepatic cholangiocarcinomas (ICCs). This type of cancer resembles cells that line the bile ducts inside the liver. People with chronic inflammation and damage to their liver (such as those with cirrhosis, sclerosing cholangitis, pyogenic cholangiohepatitis, or choledochal cysts) are at higher risk for ICC. Treatment for ICC is often similar to treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma.

Other Primary Liver Cancers

There are other rare forms of liver cancer—including angiosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, and hemangiopericytoma, which start in the blood vessels of the liver; hepatoblastoma, which affects children; and biliary cystadenocarcinoma, which occurs mainly in women.

Related Cancers

The Liver Tumor Clinic team also treats cancers in other structures whose function is closely tied to the liver, including the cancers described here.

Extrahepatic Cholangiocarcinoma

This type of cancer begins in the bile duct outside the liver that drains into the intestine.

Hilar Cholangiocarcinoma

This type begins in the bile ducts in the area where the right and left hepatic ducts meet to form the common hepatic duct. This is the most common form of extrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma.

Gallbladder Carcinoma

This uncommon cancer begins in the lining of the gallbladder. It is often associated with gallstones.

Benign Tumors

Many tumors of the liver are benign, which means that the tumor cells cannot invade nearby tissue or spread to other organs. Even though they are not cancerous, sometimes these tumors need to be treated because they cause symptoms or can transform into cancers. The Liver Tumor Clinic offers specialized treatment of these diseases as well. They include hemangioma, focal nodular hyperplasia, and liver adenoma.


This is the most common tumor of the liver. These tumors are made up of a tangle of blood vessels. They rarely cause symptoms or require treatment. There is no evidence that they develop into cancer or rupture spontaneously.

Focal Nodular Hyperplasia

These tumor-like masses are benign and usually discovered incidentally (when a doctor is diagnosing, monitoring, or treating some other condition). Once they are accurately diagnosed, with few exceptions these masses are innocuous, do not cause symptoms, and do not require treatment.

Liver Adenoma

This is a benign tumor often associated with prolonged use of hormonal contraception with high estrogen content or with other forms of hormonal imbalance, such as in polycystic ovarian syndrome. Most adenomas cause no symptoms, but they have a risk of bleeding, and rarely they transform into hepatocellular carcinoma.


Cysts are benign encapsulated structures that contain fluid. Liver cysts are common, but they rarely cause symptoms and, therefore, are usually not detected. There are various types of liver cysts.

Simple Cysts

These are the most common and the least likely to cause symptoms.

Complex Cysts

These are different from simple cysts because they have features that may be signs of an underlying disease process and they may require medical intervention.

Polycystic Liver Disease

This is a rare condition in which many cysts grow throughout the liver. If there are too many or they grow too large, they may cause symptoms and require treatment. This is usually a hereditary condition.

Echinococcal Cysts

These form due to a parasitic disease caused by the larval stages of different species of the tapeworm of genus Echinococcus.

Choledochal Cysts

These cysts are part of a congenital condition that causes problems by blocking the flow of bile in the tubes that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and intestine. Most of these cysts are treated in childhood, but occasionally symptoms do not develop until adulthood. People with choledochal cysts are at increased risk of developing cholangiocarcinoma.

Biliary Cystadenomas

These cystic masses are a rare form of benign fluid-filled tumors associated with the bile ducts. They occur mainly in women, and they carry a risk of becoming cancer and therefore often require surgery.