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Liver Cancer/Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Symptoms and Diagnosis | Treatment | For More Information

Primary liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) is the fifth most common cause of cancer death in American men and the ninth most common cause of death in women. Alcohol-related cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis B or C infection contribute to the majority of liver cancer cases diagnosed in the U.S. Obesity and diabetes are also major factors in the rise of hepatocellular carcinoma.

NorthShore offers one of the most comprehensive liver cancer programs in the Chicagoland region, with nationally renowned experts who treat large numbers of patient with the disease. Our hepatologists (liver disease experts) and general gastrointestinal experts are part of a multidisciplinary Kellogg Cancer Center team dedicated to helping patients overcome liver cancer. The complexity of liver cancer demands a team approach delivered by multiple specialists knowledgeable about all facets of the disease. Your healthcare team may include a hepatologist, medical oncologist, surgeon, interventional radiologist, therapeutic endoscopist and radiation oncologist. These physicians meet regularly to discuss each patient’s case in detail, and to design a personalized treatment plan.

Liver Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis

Patients with liver cancer may exhibit few, if any, symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Liver cancer signs may include:

  • fatigue
  • lack of appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • jaundice
  • abdominal pain

Often, liver cancer is detected during a routine liver imaging study in patients with chronic liver disease, or in the process of evaluating patients for abnormal liver tests or unexplained cirrhosis.

To evaluate you for liver cancer and discuss possible causes of liver cancer, your NorthShore liver disease expert will perform a physical exam and order blood tests. You may also need to undergo a CT or MRI scan, ultrasound or angiogram ‒ tests used to determine the size, location, blood supply and spread of your liver tumor(s). In addition to these diagnostic tests, a biopsy may be recommended so that a tumor sample can be obtained for analysis and study by our in-house pathology experts.

Our advanced endoscopists may also assist in the diagnosis, staging and treatment of non-cancerous and cancerous tumors of the liver and GI tract by using endoscopic ultrasound technologies and biliary endoscopy approaches such as endoscopic retrograde cholangio-pancreatography (ERCP).

Liver Cancer Treatment Options

At NorthShore, we offer a full complement of leading-edge options for treating hepatocellular carcinoma. Our multidisciplinary team includes medical oncologists experienced in managing the most advanced medications and chemotherapy for your care and hepato-pancreaticobiliary surgeons skilled at performing advanced minimally-invasive surgical procedures for the removal of liver tumors. Our liver surgeons have recently established a robotic surgery program that can dramatically reduce surgical trauma and shorten hospital stays.

Our interventional radiologists have at their disposal the latest treatment innovations such as radiofrequency ablation (using heat to destroy tumors), and Yttrium-90-loaded microspheres that are delivered directly into the tumor through the blood stream, providing highly selective therapy to kill cancerous cells and tissue.  In addition, they use liver-directed therapies such as microwave embolization or radiofrequency ablation for smaller tumors.

Transplantation is another important option for the treatment of early liver cancer. The hepatologists in our Liver Disease/Hepatology Program will identify patients who qualify for liver transplantation. They manage the patients’ pre-transplant care and work closely with several transplant centers in the Chicago area, including the Center for Liver Diseases at the University of Chicago, our preferred local referral center.

NorthShore’s participation in regional and national clinical trials in liver cancer treatment allows us to offer patients the most advanced therapies available in the country.

For More Information

Find more information on treatment and causes of liver cancer, or to schedule an appointment with one of our hepatologists, please call 847.657.1900.