Liver cancer is the fifth most common tumor in the world and the second leading cause of cancer death. The number of new cases diagnosed each year has more than doubled since 1990 and Switzerland is no exception. Unfortunately, the prognosis remains very reserved; only people who can be diagnosed at an early stage can benefit from curative treatment, whether it be transplantation or surgical resection.

Liver cancer is a priority area of study for medicine.

The answers to the questions below are taken from the brochure Le Cancer du Foie, published in 2019 by the Swiss Cancer League.

The term cancer covers many different diseases which have in common the presence of cancer cells. In most types of cancer, cancer cells form so-called malignant tumors, which tend to grow and spread.

Some, called benign, are however not cancerous; they remain localized in one part of the body and are generally not life threatening. Cancer is named after the organ in which the malignant tumor has formed.

Most benign liver tumors do not require surgery; others need surgery whenever possible, as they are at high risk of developing into a malignant tumor.

Liver metastases are secondary foci of cancer that have formed in another organ and have spread to the liver.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), commonly referred to as liver cancer, is a malignant tumor that forms as a result of cell degeneration in the liver. In most people affected, it is associated with cirrhosis of the liver.

The exact causes of liver cancer are unknown. The risk increases when several of the incriminated factors are present, i.e:

Cirrhosis of the liver – Chronic hepatitis B or C – Excessive alcohol consumption – Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – Hereditary metabolic disorders – Autoimmune liver disease – Ingestion of aflatoxin B1.

People with an above-average risk of liver cancer (eg cirrhosis of the liver) should have a medical check-up every six months to detect a possible liver tumor as soon as possible. The doctor will usually do an ultrasound of the liver, possibly along with a blood test.

If the doctor suspects liver cancer, he will usually do the following tests:

Questionnaire on the disorders felt and on possible risk factors, followed by a physical examination, use of medical imaging techniques (ultrasound, MRI), tissue sampling (biopsy), laboratory examinations and possible additional examinations.

Some tumors release specific substances into the blood, called tumor markers, the presence of which can be detected by a blood test. The main tumor marker for liver cancer is called AFP (alpha foeto-protein). An abnormally high rate of AFP, however, can also be linked to other diseases or to pregnancy and is therefore not a reliable diagnostic tool.

To treat liver cancer, we mainly use: the operation (resection or partial hepatectomy), liver transplantation, local anticancer treatment, drug treatment.

The objectives and principles of therapy vary depending on the type of tumor and the stage of the disease.

Operation: the intervention aims to remove, if possible, all of the tumor, taking care to retain as much unaffected liver tissue as possible. After the operation the liver “grows back” within a few weeks.

Transplantation: Liver transplantation involves removing the diseased liver and replacing it with the liver or a segment of liver from another person. However, a liver transplant is only possible if the tumor has not yet entered the blood vessels, the lymph nodes are not affected and there is no distant metastasis.

Local anticancer treatments and drug treatments.

The progress made in recent decades has significantly improved the chances of survival and the quality of life of those affected by cancer. However, the treatments remain long and trying. While some people are able to continue with their daily activities, others cannot.

Listening to yourself, talking about it with others, and seeking professional support can go a long way.

Risk factors for liver cancer


Excessive consumption of alcohol


Anabolic steroids

Chronic viral hepatitis
(Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C)

Tobacco consumption

Addresses & Useful Links

EASL, The Home of Hepatology

The European Association for the Study of the Liver began in April 1966 as a small group of 70 hepatologists from 15 European countries who came together to share their best medical practices. 50 years later, EASL has grown into a major European association with liver and liver disease.

ILCA, International Liver Cancer Association

The international organization dedicated exclusively to liver cancer research for experts from all related disciplines

Swiss Nash logo

Swiss NASH Foundation

The Swiss NASH Foundation was established in October 2019 in Bern, Switzerland. In a joint effort to combat the prevalence and burden of NASH, scientific experts and major pharmaceutical companies have joined together to establish the foundation.

AASLD logo

AASLD, American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases

AASLD is the premier organization of scientists and healthcare professionals engaged in the prevention and treatment of liver disease in America.

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