Learn more about how liver transplant can treat liver cancer

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a form of liver cancer that affects more than 20,000 people in the United States every year.

Typically, it affects people who have been diagnosed with other chronic liver diseases or infections, including hepatitis B and C, hemochromatosis, cholangiocarcinoma, and cirrhosis.

Alcohol abuse can also lead to HCC. In fact, having more than two or three alcoholic drinks a day may increase your chances of developing HCC.

How is this condition diagnosed, and how treatable is this type of liver cancer? Read on for more information.

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What Are the Symptoms of Hepatocellular Carcinoma?

Many people don’t show any symptoms until the disease has progressed to a severe stage. Symptoms of HCC include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Fatigue
  • Fluid in the abdomen
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice or yellow tint to the skin

How Is Hepatocellular Carcinoma Diagnosed?

To diagnose HCC, doctors begin with a physical exam. After that, these follow up tests and procedures may be done to confirm a diagnosis of HCC.

  • Imaging studies (MRI, CT scans, abdominal ultrasounds) allow your doctor to see the size and location of a tumor and can help determine whether the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.
  • Blood tests help evaluate overall liver function and whether you have been exposed to hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
  • Liver biopsy allows the doctor to remove a small sample of tissue to test for HCC and help determine the presence of cirrhosis.

How Treatable Is Liver Cancer?

Depending on the location and severity of HCC, there are multiple treatment options available.

  • Liver surgery: If HCC is found early enough, surgery can be done to remove the tumor. This is often the most successful treatment option and can offer the best chance of curing HCC.
  • Radiation therapy: If the tumor is too large to be completely removed, radiation therapy can shrink the tumor or help manage the cancer.
  • Chemotherapy: Local chemotherapy is used for some patients.
  • Liver transplantation: If the cancer has not spread to other areas of your body, a liver transplant may be an option. During a liver transplant, the entire liver is removed and replaced with a piece of healthy liver from a donor.

Liver Transplant for Liver Cancer

Adults with HCC who are in need of a liver transplant may be able to receive one from a living donor. During a living donor liver transplant, a healthy donor has a portion of their liver removed and transplanted into the person with HCC.

Living donation offers many life-saving benefits, including:

  • Significantly shorter waiting time. Surgery can be scheduled at a time that works for both the donor and the recipient.
  • Quicker recovery time. Both the recipient and donor often return to their normal, active lives within weeks to months following living donor transplant surgery.
  • Improved long-term outcomes. The donor’s liver functions up until the time of transplant, so the recipient can benefit from improved long-term outcomes and a quicker recovery.

If you have been diagnosed with HCC and are in need of a liver transplant, every moment is critical. Talk to your loved ones about becoming living donors.

About Transplant Services

Established in 1981, UPMC Transplant Services is one of the foremost organ transplant centers in the world. Our clinicians have performed more than 20,000 organ transplant procedures, including liver, kidney, pancreas, single and double lung, heart, and more. We are home to some of the world’s foremost transplant experts and have a long history of developing new antirejection therapies—so organ recipients can enjoy better health with fewer restrictions.