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Adult primary liver cancer is a disease in which cancer (malignant) cells start to grow in the tissues of the liver. The liver is one of the largest organs in the body, filling the upper right side of the abdomen and protected by the rib cage. The liver has many functions. It plays an important role in making your food into energy. The liver also filters and stores blood.

Primary liver cancer is different from cancer that has spread from another place in the body to the liver (liver metastases). Adult primary liver cancer is very rare. People who have hepatitis B or C (viral infections of the liver) or a disease of the liver called cirrhosis are more likely than other people to get adult primary liver cancer.

Like most cancers, liver cancer is best treated when it is found (diagnosed) early. You should see your doctor if you have a hard lump just below the rib cage on the right side where the liver has swollen, you feel discomfort in your upper abdomen on the right side, you have pain around your right shoulder blade, or your skin turns yellow (jaundice).

If you have symptoms, your doctor may order special x-rays, such as a CT scan or a liver scan. If a lump is seen on an x-ray, your doctor may remove a small amount of tissue from your liver using a needle inserted into your abdomen. This is called a needle biopsy and is usually done using an x-ray to guide your doctor. Your doctor will have the tissue looked at under the microscope to see if there are any cancer cells. Before the test, you will be given a local anesthetic ( a drug that causes loss of feeling for a short period of time) in the area so that you do not feel pain.

Your doctor may also want to look at the liver with an instrument called a laparascope, which is a small tube-shaped instrument with a light on the end. For this test, a small cut is made in the abdomen so that the laparascope, can be inserted. Your doctor may also take a small piece of tissue (biopsy) during the laparoscopy and look at it under the microscope to see if there are any cancer cells. You will be given an anesthetic so you do not feel pain.

Your doctor may also order an exam called angiography. During this exam, a tube (catheter) is inserted into the main blood vessel that takes blood to the liver. Dye is then injected through the tube so that the blood vessels in the liver can be seen on an x-ray. Angiography can help the doctor tell whether the cancer is primary liver cancer or cancer that has spread from another part of the body. This test is usually done in the hospital.

Certain blood tests (such as alpha fetoprotein, or AFT) may also help your doctor to diagnose primary liver cancer. Your chance of recovery (prognosis) and choice of treatment depend on the stage of your cancer (whether it is just in the liver or has spread to other places) and your general state of health.