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What is primary liver cancer?

Primary liver cancer is a malignant tumour that starts in the liver. The most common type of primary liver cancer in adults is hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). HCC starts in the hepatocytes, the main type of liver cell. This information focuses on HCC.

Less common types of primary liver cancer include:

  • cholangiocarcinoma or bile duct cancer – starts in the bile ducts
  • angiosarcoma – a very rare type of liver cancer that starts in the blood vessels
  • hepatoblastoma – a very rare form of liver cancer that affects only young children.

How common is primary liver cancer?

In Australia, about 2100 people are diagnosed with primary liver cancer each year, with almost three times more men than women affected. The rate of primary liver cancer in Australia has doubled since 1999, which is possibly due to increasing rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, hepatitis B and C infections, and an ageing population.

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed June 2020 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr David Yeo, Hepatobiliary/Transplant Surgeon, Royal Prince Alfred, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse Cancer Centre and St George Hospitals, NSW; Dr Lorraine Chantrill, Head of Department Medical Oncology, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; Michael Coulson, Consumer; Dr Sam Davis, Interventional Radiologist, Staff Specialist, Royal Brisbane and Women‘s Hospital, QLD; Prof Chris Karapetis, Network Clinical Director (Cancer Services), Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, Head, Department of Medical Oncology, Flinders Medical Centre and Flinders University, SA; Dr Howard Liu, Radiation Oncologist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Lina Sharma, Consumer; Dr Graham Starkey, Hepato-Biliary and General Surgeon, Austin Hospital, VIC; Catherine Trevaskis, Gastrointestinal Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Hospital and Health Services, ACT; Dr Michael Wallace, Western Australia Liver Transplant Service, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital,