Liver Cancer


Liver cancer, or hepatic cancer, begins in the cells of your liver, a football-sized organ located in the upper right area of your abdomen. The malignancy can originate in the liver itself or from structures within the liver, including blood vessels or the bile duct. The most common form of liver cancer, accounting for approximately 75% of all primary liver cancer cases, is hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). This cancer begins in the hepatocyte, the main type of liver cell. Other cells in the liver can develop cancer, but it is much less common.

When cancer is found in the liver, it often has spread from somewhere else in the body. Cancer that begins in another area of the body and spreads to the liver is called metastatic cancer. Liver cancers are different than liver metastases.

General Information

Primary liver cancer is the sixth most frequently occurring cancer globally and the second leading cause of cancer death. In 2012, it occurred in 782,000 people and resulted in 746,000 deaths. Higher rates of liver cancer occur where Hepatitis B and C are common, including East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The five-year survival rate is about 17 percent in the United States.

The leading cause of liver cancer is cirrhosis due to hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and alcohol. Alcohol intake correlates with the risk of HCC, and the risk is far greater in individuals with an alcohol-induced cirrhotic liver.

Signs and symptoms of liver cancer depend on what type you have. HCC is associated with abdominal mass, abdominal pain, emesis, anemia, back pain, jaundice, itching, weight loss, and fever.

HCC can be cured only when it is found at an early stage (before it has spread) and only if you are healthy enough to have surgery. However, treatments other than surgery may be able to control the disease and help you live longer and feel better. The choice of treatment depends on the condition of your liver; the number, size, and location of tumors; and whether the cancer has spread outside the liver. Options include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, percutaneous ethanol injections, and hepatic arterial infusions. For a few patients, liver transplantation may be an option.

Diagnosis of HCC requires a clinical examination, including a medical history review and a thorough physical examination. Several tests may be performed including blood work, CT scan, ultrasound, MRI, angiogram, and biopsy.

Social Security Administration POMS: SI 23022.225 – Liver Cancer

HCC is rarely discovered early and often does not respond to current treatments. Therefore, the prognosis is often poor. For patients with advanced disease, care is focused on keeping the patient as comfortable as possible. Palliative therapy aims to improve the quality life by controlling pain and other problems caused by the disease.

Liver cancer is evaluated under Social Security Medical Listing 13.19. It also is listed under the Social Security Administration’s Compassionate Allowance Program, which was launched in 2008 to expedite certain disability claims.

Applying for disability benefits under the Compassionate Allowance Program requires the same procedure every applicant must follow when applying for SSA disability benefits; however, you will be notified if your condition is being considered as a compassionate allowance.

Your representative may be able to help expedite your disability claim if you have a diagnosis of liver cancer.