Primary cancer of the liver is very rare in the Western world but is common in many of the developing countries, where chronic liver damage from long continued protein starvation is still a harsh fact of life. In the Western world live cancer is usually associated with the chronic liver damage of alcoholic cirrhosis.
Vinyl chloride, the building block of the plastic polyvinyl chloride, has caused a rare form of primary liver cancer among workers exposed to it, and there is some concern that the PVC widely used in food packaging and in domestic plumbing may be liberating traces of the dangerous vinyl; of cancer.
In only very rare instances is a primary liver cancer so situated and so localized that its surgical removal is possible. If the tumor is rapidly growing and anaplastic, some response, but not cure, can be anticipated from chemotherapy.
The liver is by far the most common site of secondary metastatic tumors spreading from primaries elsewhere, particularly tumors of the trointestinal system. Their presence usually indicates an incurable situation.
Malignant liver enlargement can usually be felt by the physician, and the size and location of individual liver metastases can be visualized and measured by ultrasound, isotope liver can, or computerized axial tomography