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Function of the Liver
The liver is the largest internal organ in the body, and its functions are vital to the digestion of food. No one can survive without a liver. Functions of the liver include:
- Collecting and filtering blood from the intestines
- Processing and storing needed nutrients absorbed from the intestines
- Chemically metabolizing (changing) some nutrients into energy or to repair and build tissue
- Producing some of the body's blood clotting factors
- Removing toxic wastes from the body
- Helping maintain the proper sugar level in the body
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Types of liver cancer
Cancer begins when normal cells begin to change and grow uncontrollably, forming a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous, meaning it can spread to other parts of the body).
Primary liver cancer is cancer that begins in the liver. It is more common for the liver to be the site of metastasis (spreading) of a cancer that started in another place, such as pancreas, colon, stomach, breast, or lung cancer. However, these are not primary liver cancer. For more information about cancer that started in another part of the body and spread to the liver, please read about that specific cancer type.
This section covers only adult primary liver cancer. The subtypes of adult primary liver cancer are named for the type of cell from which they develop and can be found below:
Types of adult primary liver cancer:
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)
- Description: Hepatocellular carcinoma can follow different growth patterns. Some spread tentacle-like growths through the liver. This pattern is the most common one in the United States. Others start as a single tumor that spreads to other parts of the liver later in the disease. Still others develop as nodules at several different places in the liver. Occasionally, a pattern isn't clear.
- Most (about 90%) adult primary liver cancers are hepatocellular carcinomas.
- Description: Cholangiocarcinomas grow from cells in the bile duct of the liver. The bile duct is a thin tube that extends from the liver to the small intestine. The bile duct starts inside the liver as several smaller tubes that join together.
- About 9% of adult primary liver cancers are cholangiocarcinomas. For more information, please review the Guide to Bile Duct Cancer
- About 1% of adult primary liver cancers are angiosarcomas. For more information, please read the Guide to Sarcoma.
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Looking for More of an Overview?
If you would like additional introductory information, explore the following item on Cancer.Net:
- ASCO Answers Fact Sheet: Read a one-page fact sheet (available in PDF) that offers an easy-to-print introduction for this type of cancer.
Download the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader
- Cancer.Net En Español: Read this section in Spanish.
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- Risk Factors and Prevention
- Side Effects
- After Treatment
- Questions to Ask the Doctor
- Current Research
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- Clinical Trials Resources
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