What is a Liver Tumor?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A liver tumor is an area of uncontrolled cell growth in or on the liver. Like tumors elsewhere in the body, liver tumors arise when something goes awry during cell division, leading cells to replicate themselves without any checks in place instead of reproducing and dying off in the normal way. Depending on the type of liver tumor involved, the tumor may be identified in diagnostic screening, or it may remain unknown until someone dies of other causes and the tumor is discovered at an autopsy.

Like other parts of the body, tumors found in the liver can be malignant or benign.
Like other parts of the body, tumors found in the liver can be malignant or benign.

There are two kinds of liver tumors: benign and malignant. In the case of a benign tumor, the growth should not cause health problems such as occluded veins or the spread of secondary tumors. Benign liver tumors often go undiagnosed, and they are sometimes discovered by accident during testing or investigation for something else. Malignant tumors, also known as cancerous tumors, do pose a health threat, and they can damage the liver severely in addition to spreading through the body.

A malignant liver tumor may need to be removed.
A malignant liver tumor may need to be removed.

Some liver tumors are primary, which means that they arise in the liver itself. One of the most common forms of primary liver tumor is the hepatocellular carcinoma. Others are secondary tumors which occur when tumors elsewhere in the body metastasize. Tumors on neighboring organs can make a quick jump to the liver, and secondary tumors can also come from more remote parts of the body. Conversely, primary liver tumors can spread to other parts of the body.

Because the liver filters toxins and waste from the blood, if the organ fails to work properly a person can become seriously ill.
Because the liver filters toxins and waste from the blood, if the organ fails to work properly a person can become seriously ill.

Medical imaging can usually reveal a liver tumor, although biopsy will be needed to learn more about it. Sometimes liver tumors grow large enough to be felt as a mass during routine palpation of the abdomen. In either case, the treatment approach to the tumor varies, depending on whether or not it is malignant. Malignant tumors generally need to be removed, and the body will need to be treated with drugs which are designed to prevent regrowth, while benign tumors may be left in situ.

A liver ultrasound can be used to detect a liver tumor.
A liver ultrasound can be used to detect a liver tumor.

Symptoms of liver tumors can vary. Some people experience no symptoms at all, especially in the case of benign tumors. In other instances, people may feel fatigued, or they can develop jaundice as the tumor interferes with liver function. Jaundice is very recognizable, thanks to the yellow tint which appears in the eyes and skin of patients with jaundice. The tumor may also cause abdominal discomfort, lack of appetite, or digestive problems.

A liver tumor may cause abdominal discomfort.
A liver tumor may cause abdominal discomfort.
Hepatocellular carcinoma is sometimes linked to cirrhosis of the liver caused by alcohol abuse.
Hepatocellular carcinoma is sometimes linked to cirrhosis of the liver caused by alcohol abuse.
A sample of the liver tumor may be examined under a microscope to rule out cancer.
A sample of the liver tumor may be examined under a microscope to rule out cancer.
Chemotherapy may be necessary after having a liver tumor removed.
Chemotherapy may be necessary after having a liver tumor removed.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon128596

my aunt just found out 3 days ago she has a tumor on her liver.. she had abdomen pain. i hope is not cancerous. -linda

anon105678

my friend has been diagnosed with a liver tumor. he has jaundice as well. Should he be in the hospital? The doctor has told him to come back to the surgery on Monday.

pharmchick78

@yournamehere -- The symptoms of liver tumors are often the same as the liver cancer symptoms.

Symptoms include progressive weakness, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and abnormally colored stools -- either too dark or too light.

As the tumor gets bigger or you get into the more advanced liver cancer stages, patients may experience nausea and palpitations.

In the last stages of liver cancer, as with large liver tumors, it is common for patients to experience ascites, or a buildup of fluid in the stomach, along with muscular atrophy, high fever, and even nasal bleeding.

yournamehere

So what are some of the symptoms of liver tumors besides jaundice?

I know that that is the main one, and that there won't necessarily be any symptoms, but what are some other possible ones?

rallenwriter

Unfortunately, because liver tumors are so often asymptomatic until they get larger, people often don't discover that they have liver cancer until it's almost too late.

This is why the liver cancer prognosis is so bad -- a lot of people don't even know they have liver cancer until it's in the last stages.

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