Liver Cancer: Survival Rates and Prognosis

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If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with liver cancer, you may be worried about the survival rates and what the future may hold. We don’t often hear much about liver cancer and when we do, it is usually in the context of how fast it progressed. However, if it is caught early enough, survival rates are comparable to other cancers, with similar prognosis. Learn more about the different stages of liver cancer and the prognosis, or outlook.

Liver Cancer Survival Rate

The liver cancer survival rates are improving but still greatly depend on what stage of liver cancer you have. The earlier it is detected, the easier it is to treat and the greater the survival rate.

  • Stage 1: The first stage has two substages, A and B. For stage 1, the tumor has not affected the nearby blood vessels nor have cancer cells spread to the lymph nodes. If the tumor is smaller than 2 centimeters, it is classified as 1A. If it is larger than 2 cm, it is 1B.
  • Stage 2: If you have more than one tumor and one is minimum 5 cm across in size, but the cancer cells have not spread to the lymph nodes or beyond, this is stage 2.
  • Stage 3: This stage also has A and B substages. If at least one tumor is larger than 5 cm in size but has not yet spread beyond the liver, this is stage 3A. If it has invaded the portal or hepatic veins but not spread beyond the liver, this is stage 3B.
  • Stage 4 is the most advanced stage of liver cancer. Stage 4A means the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, but not beyond. If it has spread to other body parts, this is stage 4B. Once cancer has spread beyond its primary spot, in this case the liver, it is called metastatic cancer.

Generally, survivorship from cancer is measured as a 5-year survival rate—the percentage of patients who are still alive five years after diagnosis or the start of treatment. The overall 5-year survival rate for liver cancer, including all cases, is 18%. This is much better than it was just four decades ago, when overall survival was only 3%. Patients who have stage 1, localized, liver cancer have a 5-year survival rate of 33%. Those with regional, or stage 2 or 3 liver cancer, have an 11% 5-year survival rate. Patients with advanced, or stage 4 liver cancer have a 2% 5-year survival rate.

The highest levels of survivorship are among patients who have surgery to remove the tumor(s) and the cancer doesn’t return, or they have undergone a liver transplant that left them cancer-free. Following a transplant, if the patient has no other serious health issues and did not have cirrhosis of the liver, the 5-year survival rate is as high as 70%. However, this is only possible if the cancer has not spread beyond the liver or if the patients are healthy enough to undergo surgery.

Liver Cancer and Cirrhosis

Patients who have cirrhosis of the liver prior to liver cancer may not receive certain types of liver cancer treatment, which can affect their prognosis. Liver cirrhosis causes scars in the liver tissue, reducing the amount of healthy liver cells, which ultimately makes the liver less effective at doing its job. A scarred liver cannot tolerate certain types of chemotherapy. The lower liver function plus the chemotherapy can cause serious side effects.

Liver cancer is a challenging diagnosis, but not a hopeless one. By working with your doctor, you can develop the right treatment plan for you to manage the disease and maintain the best possible quality of life.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 19
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Liver Cancer Stages. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/staging.html
  2. Pinter M, Trauner M, Peck-Radosavljevic M, et al. Cancer and liver cirrhosis: implications on prognosis and management ESMO Open 2016;1:e000042. doi: 10.1136/esmoopen-2016-000042
  3. Liver Cancer Survival Rates. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/survival-rates.html