What is Liver Cancer?

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Liver cancer is a heterogeneous group of tumours that originate in the liver. The most common kind of tumour is hepatocellular carcinoma – a disease in which liver cells (known as hepatocytes) become abnormal, experience uncontrolled growth and consequently form a tumour. This abnormal, uncontrolled growth is due to an accumulation of mutations in the liver cells’ DNA (the organic compound that contains each living organism’s genetic information).  

While hepatocellular carcinoma is the most prevalent primary tumour, it is not the only one, as the liver comprises other types of cell besides hepatocytes. When the abnormal cells are located in intrahepatic bile ducts, they give rise to tumours called cholangiocarcinomas.  

It is important to differentiate between primary liver tumours and those which spread to the liver from other parts of the body, which are called secondary tumours or liver metastases. 

How many people are affected by liver cancer?

There are over 750,000 new cases of hepatocellular carcinoma diagnosed worldwide each year, which makes it the sixth most predominant type of tumour in the world. In Spain, there are approximately 6,000 new cases reported every year and it is much more typical in men.  

Contemporary studies have shown that the incidence of hepatocellular carcinomas has increased in recent years and it is currently one of the foremost causes of death in patients with liver cirrhosis and represents the main indication for a liver transplant in Spain.  

Cholangiocarcinoma is less frequent and its true incidence is unknown, but we know it corresponds to at least 10% of primary liver cancers. 

Substantiated information by:

Alejandro Forner González
Jordi Bruix Tudo
María Reig Monzón
Neus Llarch Alfonso

Published: 13 May 2020
Updated: 13 May 2020

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