Skip to content

The liver

The largest organ inside the body, the liver is about the size of a football. It is part of the digestive system, working with the gall bladder and pancreas to help break down food and turn it into energy.

The liver has many important jobs, including:

  • storing sugars and fats, so they can be used for energy
  • producing bile to help dissolve fat so it can be easily digested
  • making proteins to help blood clot and to balance fluid in the body
  • breaking down harmful substances, such as drugs and alcohol.

The liver is found on the right side of the abdomen (belly), sitting just above the stomach and under the rib cage. It is divided into two main sections – the right and left lobes.

How the liver works

Blood flows into the liver from the hepatic artery and the portal vein. The hepatic artery carries blood from the heart. The portal vein carries blood from the digestive organs to the liver.

Bile is carried between the liver, the gall bladder and the first part of the small bowel (the duodenum) by a series of tubes called bile ducts. The common bile duct carries bile from the liver and the gall bladder to the bowel, where the bile helps to break down and absorb fats and other nutrients from food.

The liver can continue to work when only a small part is healthy. A healthy liver may be able to repair itself if it is injured or part of it is surgically removed during cancer treatment.

Click on image to enlarge

Featured resources

Liver Cancer - Your guide to best cancer care

Download PDF

Understanding Liver Cancer

Download PDF

This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed June 2022 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Simone Strasser, Hepatologist, AW Morrow Gastroenterology and Liver Centre, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and The University of Sydney, NSW; A/Prof Siddhartha Baxi, Radiation Oncologist and Medical Director, GenesisCare, Gold Coast, QLD; Prof Katherine Clark, Clinical Director of Palliative Care, NSLHD Supportive and Palliative Care Network, Northern Sydney Cancer Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Anne Dowling, Hepatoma Clinical Nurse Consultant and Liver Transplant Coordinator, Austin Health, VIC; A/Prof Koroush Haghighi, Liver, Pancreas and Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeon, Prince of Wales and St Vincent’s Hospitals, NSW; Karen Hall, 131120 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Dr Brett Knowles, Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary and General Surgeon, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and St Vincent’s Hospital, VIC; Lina Sharma, Consumer; David Thomas, Consumer; Clinical A/Prof Michael Wallace, Department of Hepatology and Western Australian Liver Transplant Service, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital Medical School, The University of Western Australia, WA; Prof Desmond Yip, Clinical Director, Department of Medical Oncology, The Canberra Hospital, ACT.