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Liver and bile duct cancer care

Comprehensive prevention, detection and treatment for people with liver and bile duct cancer

Allina Health offers a complete range of holistic care aimed at preventing, detecting and treating cancers of the liver and bile duct.

Abbott Northwestern Hospital is one of only a few facilities that uses selective internal radiation therapy (SIRT) to treat liver tumors.


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What it is

The largest organ in the body, the liver is pyramid-shaped and located under your right ribs. It has two sections called lobes. It is different from most organs because it has two blood sources:

  • The hepatic artery brings in oxygen-rich blood
  • The portal vein supplies nutrient-rich blood from the intestines

The liver is vital. You can’t live without it. It plays important roles in many processes, including digestion and blood clotting. Cancer of the liver is one of the most rapidly increasing types of cancer in the United States.

The main types of primary liver cancer are:

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC): Most primary liver cancers are HCC. They begin in hepatocyte cells. Sometimes they begin as a single tumor; other times they start in multiple spots in the liver. The latter is more common in people with liver damage, such as cirrhosis, and is more prevalent in this country.

Fibrolamellar HCC is a rare subtype that often has a higher chance for successful treatment than other types of liver cancer.

Bile duct cancers (cholangiocarcinomas): One or two of every 10 cases of liver cancer start in the bile ducts, which are small tubes that carry bile to the gallbladder. They are treated in the same way as HCC.

Angiosarcomas and hemangiosarcomas begin in blood vessels in the liver.  These fast-growing liver cancers usually are not diagnosed until they are in advanced stages.

Hepatoblastoma: A very rare type of liver cancer, this most often is found in children. The survival rate is more than 90% if the cancer is caught early.

Good to know

Liver Cancer Symptoms:

Liver cancer usually does not cause symptoms in the early stages. When it does have symptoms, they vary from person to person. As the tumor grows, it may cause:

  • weight loss
  • pain in the right side of the upper abdomen or around the right shoulder blade
  • loss of appetite
  • swelling or bloating in the abdomen
  • hard lump below the ribs on the right side
  • tiredness or weakness
  • nausea or vomiting
  • fever
  • jaundice, which causes yellow skin and eyes, and dark urine
  • feeling of fullness after a small meal
  • itching
  • swollen veins on the abdomen
  • becoming sicker if you have hepatitis or cirrhosis

Certain types of liver cancer produce hormones that may cause:

  • high blood-calcium levels that may cause constipation, nausea or confusion
  • low blood-sugar levels that may cause tiredness or faint feeling
  • enlarged breasts or shrinking of testicles in men
  • high red-blood cell count that may cause redness in the face

Good for preventing

  • Drink alcohol in moderation. Drinking too much alcohol can damage your liver and bile duct.
  • Keep your weight in a normal range (BMI under 25).
  • Consider getting a preventive hepatitis B vaccine.

Good for detecting


If your doctor suspects you may have liver or bile duct cancer, you will most likely be referred for one or more of these tests:

  • medical history and physical exam 
  • ultrasound - uses sound waves to create an image on a video screen
  • computed tomography (CT) - an X-ray test that produces detailed cross-sectional images of your body
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – uses radio waves and strong magnets instead of X-rays
  • biopsy - the removal of a sample of tissue to see if it is cancer
  • blood tests
  • Endoscopy/Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS) a scope procedure to look inside your body for masses, tumors or obstructions that may be cancer. A biopsy can be done during this procedure.
  • ERCP/Endoscopy Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography is a scope procedure that is done to relieve obstruction/blockage. This may require the placement of a stent or tube in the duct.

Good for treating

Your cancer care team will work with you to develop your cancer treatment plan. The plan is unique to your medical diagnosis, pathology and preferences. Your plan could include any of these cancer treatment options.

  • surgery
  • radiation therapy
  • radiofrequency ablation (RFA)- uses heat to destroy cancer cells
  • microwave (MWA) ablation – uses microwave energy to destroy the cancer cells
  • chemoembolization- uses chemotherapy coated beads to directly treat liver tumors through the blood stream in the liver by a catheter
  • bland embolization- uses particles delivered into a tumors blood flow that causes a blockage and then death of the cancer


One of the latest liver cancer treatments, Radioembolization, uses tiny glass beads (microspheres) to send a radioactive element (yttrium-90) through the bloodstream into liver tumors.

Since the radiation goes directly into the tumor, it is more effective in killing cancer cells and saving normal liver function than standard radiation treatments.

Radioemoblization is a local. This means it effects only the liver.

Related links

Reviewed by: Melissa Wall, director, Program Development, Cancer Center

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What’s the reason for your visit?

Only these primary care appointments can be scheduled online. For all other appointments or with any questions, call 1-888-425-5462.