What is a Liver Tumour?
A liver tumour is a solid mass within the liver which is formed when cells are aligned abnormally and start reproducing at an increased rate.
When a tumour has the capacity to invade locally or spread to other body parts, it is cancerous (malignant). Tumours that do not spread elsewhere in the body are benign.
Benign liver tumours
The most common types of benign liver tumours include:
- Haemangioma – a formation of abnormal blood vessels for which treatment is usually not indicated
- Focal nodular hyperplasia (FNH) – benign tumours made up of liver cells which have an unusual tendency to grow along an abnormal vascular distributor
- Hepatocellular adenoma – tumours containing normal liver tissue with an abnormal alignment which often remain undetected
- Liver cysts – fluid-filled bubbles often detected during imaging for other reasons
Cancerous liver tumours
Cancerous liver tumours either originate in the liver (primary) or spread from other sites of the body to the liver (secondary).
Tumours that originate in the liver (primary) are often caused by by cirrhosis, which can be caused by viral hepatitis, excessive alcohol consumption, hemochromatosis, exposure to toxins and intake of anabolic agents. Another form of primary liver cancer originates from the bile ducts and is called cholangiocarcinoma. Rare forms of primary liver tumours are those arising from structures such as blood vessels, connective tissue (sarcoma) or blood/white cells (lymphoma/leukaemia).
Most cancerous tumours in the liver are secondary. Colorectal cancer is the most common cause of secondary liver cancer.
Metastases in the liver (the spread of a cancer from one organ to another) can also occur with breast, kidney, stomach, pancreas, connective tissue, melanoma and lung cancer.
How Are Liver Tumours Diagnosed?
Benign liver tumours are diagnosed by diagnostic imaging which can characterise the lesion and identify whether it is potentially cancerous. Blood tests and endoscopy are also used to confirm the non-cancerous character of this lesion.
Cancerous liver tumours are diagnosed using a series of tests to determine the stage (extent) of cancer of the liver as well as liver metastases.
- Blood tests to identify potential tumour markers and for general assessment
- Imaging (X-ray) to characterise lesions in the body which helps to differentiate between non-cancerous and cancerous lesions. Various imaging techniques are used to diagnose or confirm tumours. – Click here to read more about the various imaging techniques used to diagnose or confirm tumours.
- Occasional biopsy