A very early cancer will have little or no symptoms because it is too small to cause any. As the cancer enlarges, it will begin to produce symptoms. Commonly these are pain in the right upper abdominal area from streching of the liver capsule, weight and appetite loss, breast swelling in males, blood clotting problems leading to intestinal bleeding and bruises on the skin and jaundice.
There are two main kinds of liver cancer. Heptoma and cholangiocarcinoma. Heptoma is cancer of the liver cells and is a primary liver cancer. Hepatoma usually grows in the liver as a ball-like tumor, invading the normal tissue surrounding it.
Cancer of the bile duct cells is called cholangiocarcinoma. Cholangiocarcinoma originates in the bile ducts and is often caused by infestation with the liver fluke Clonorchis (a parasite). The cancer grows along the bile ducts in sheets or lines and is hard to find on X-ray studies.
Most cases of liver cancer are actually cancers that started in another organ. This is called metastases. Because of its very high blood flow and many biological functions, the liver is one of the most common places for metastases to grow. Tumors that originally arise in the colon, pancreas, stomach, lung or breast can spread to the liver.
Liver cancer is much more prevalent in many of the developing countries than in the industrialized world. Its incidence is highest in subSaharan Africa, China, southern Asia, and Japan. Japan is the exception of the industrialized countries. China accounts for about 45% of the world's cases.