Types of liver cancer

Primary liver cancer is cancer that started in the liver. There are 5 main types. The type depends on the type of cell that the cancer started in.

If your cancer began somewhere else and then spread to the liver, look at our section about secondary liver cancer.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)

Hepatocellular carcinoma is also called hepatoma or HCC. It's the most common type of primary liver cancer. Because of this, the information in this primary liver cancer section is mostly about hepatocellular carcinoma.

This type of liver cancer develops from the main liver cells called hepatocytes. It's more common in people with cirrhosis. Cirrhosis means scarring of the liver due to previous damage. For example, damage from the hepatitis B or C virus, or long term alcohol drinking.

Hepatocellular carcinoma is more likely to develop in men than in women. It becomes more common as you get older.

Fibrolamellar carcinoma

Fibrolamellar carcinoma is a rare sub type of cancer.

Fibrolamellar carcinoma tends to develop in people in their 20’s or 30’s. It’s not usually linked with cirrhosis or infection with hepatitis B or C.

Some people with other types of liver cancer can have high levels of a chemical called alpha fetoprotein (AFP) in their blood. This is usually not the case for people with fibrolamellar carcinoma.

Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma)

Cholangio refers to the bile ducts, so cholangiocarcinoma is cancer of the bile ducts. The major bile ducts are tubes that connect the liver and gallbladder to the small bowel. The bile ducts carry bile, which is made by the liver. Bile helps to digest fats in food.

Bile duct cancer is rare. Cancer that starts in the section of ducts outside the liver is called extrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma. Cancer that starts in the section of ducts inside the liver is called intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma. Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma is classed as a type of primary liver cancer.

Diagram showing the position of the intraheptic bile ducts

Angiosarcoma

Angiosarcoma is also known as haemangiosarcoma. It’s a type of cancer called a soft tissue sarcoma.

This type of cancer begins in the blood vessels of the liver, and is extremely rare. It is most often diagnosed in older people.

Hepatoblastoma

Hepatoblastoma is a very rare type of primary liver cancer that usually affects young children. It's most often diagnosed in children under 2.

Benign liver growths (non cancerous growths)

Most growths (tumours) in the liver are benign. They aren’t cancer and won’t become cancerous (malignant) in the future.

Benign tumours do not usually need treatment. This can depend on the size of the tumour and whether it's causing symptoms.

The most common types of benign tumours in the liver are:

  • haemangioma
  • hepatic adenoma
  • focal nodular hyperplasia
Last reviewed: 
28 Sep 2021
Next review due: 
28 Sep 2024
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    UpToDate website
    Accessed August 2021

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    European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL)

    Journal of Hepatology, 2016. Volume 65, Issue 2, pages 386-398

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.