Liver Lesions

Liver lesions are abnormal growths that occur for a variety of reasons. Some are noncancerous (benign), and others are cancerous. Many benign lesions do not need treatment. But if it’s cancer, effective therapy may save your life.


What are liver lesions?

Liver lesions are abnormal growths that may be noncancerous (benign) or cancerous.

  • Benign lesions occur for a variety of reasons and are typically not cause for concern.
  • Liver cancer is less common but more serious.


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What are the different types of benign liver lesions?

Types of benign liver lesions include:

  • Liver hemangioma, the most common benign liver lesion. It occurs in up to 5% of adults and consists of abnormal blood vessels.
  • Focal nodular hyperplasia, which often develops in women and has a scar-like appearance.
  • Liver adenoma, a rare liver tumor. It occurs in people who take steroids, like those found in birth control pills.
  • Liver cysts, fluid-filled sacs that may be present at birth. They can also develop later in life.

What are the types of liver cancer?

Cancerous liver lesions include:

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common form. It develops in people with liver damage due to viral hepatitis and alcoholism.
  • Metastatic liver cancer, which occurs when tumors from other parts of the body spread to the liver.


Symptoms and Causes

What causes liver lesions?

Researchers aren’t sure why some lesions develop. Possible causes include:

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms you experience depend on the type of liver lesion.

Benign lesions typically do not cause symptoms, especially when they are small. On rare occasions, they can become large enough to press on nearby organs. When this happens, you may experience abdominal pain.

Liver cancer does not cause symptoms in its early stages. As the lesion grows, you may experience:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Fatigue.
  • Feeling full after eating small amounts of food.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Lump you can feel toward the top right side of your stomach.
  • Yellowing of the skin or whites of your eyes from jaundice.


Diagnosis and Tests

How are liver lesions diagnosed?

There is no single test that can diagnose all liver lesions. Your doctor may order a combination of tests to diagnose your liver lesions.

The most important tests used are:

  • Abdominal imaging such as ultrasound, CT scan and MRI.
  • Tumor markers. These are blood tests that can diagnose certain types of liver lesions.
  • Biopsy. This a procedure that allows the provider to obtain a tiny piece of the liver or liver lesion to examine under the microscope.

Management and Treatment

How are liver lesions treated?

Treatments of liver lesions depends on:

  • The nature of the lesions: Is it cancer or not cancer (benign)?
  • The size of the lesions: How big is it?
  • The condition of the liver: Is it healthy or diseased?

How are benign liver lesions treated?

  • If benign liver lesions are small and don’t cause symptoms, no treatment is needed. Your provider may monitor them by repeating imaging.
  • If benign liver lesions are large and cause symptoms, they can be removed by surgery.

How is liver cancer treated?

Liver cancers always need treatment. There are several options. Your healthcare provider will help you decide which one is best for you. Treatments for liver cancer include:

  • Ablation: Ablation destroys the liver lesion with heat or chemicals. This works best in small lesions.
  • Removal of the tumor: Surgery to remove the tumor usually works best if the liver is healthy.
  • Liver transplantation: The whole liver may need to be removed and replaced with another whole or part of a liver. This is usually done when the liver is diseased (cirrhosis).
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy may be placed directly in the tumor in a certain procedure or given by mouth.


How can I prevent liver lesions?

It’s difficult to prevent benign liver lesions. But you can lower your liver cancer risk by:

  • Living a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of physical activity.
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation because it damages liver cells and can lead to cirrhosis.
  • Avoiding hepatitis, which you can do by getting vaccinated, hand washing and practicing safe sex.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the outlook for people with benign liver lesions?

The outlook is often good. Benign liver lesions rarely grow, and they do not spread. And most lesions don’t need treatment.

What is the outlook for people with liver cancer?

It varies based on the type of cancer and how long the cancer has been there.

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma: People with hepatocellular carcinoma have an excellent outlook (prognosis) when the cancer is found and treated early. These cancers often can be cured.
  • Metastatic cancer (cancer that spread from another part of your body to the liver): This condition is more difficult to treat, and there are fewer options. Treatment will not cure the cancer, but can slow its growth and improve symptoms.

Living With

How do liver lesions affect my health?

The impact depends on your diagnosis:

  • Benign liver lesions typically do not cause symptoms, spread or interfere with liver functioning. It will not have much, if any, impact on your daily life.
  • Liver cancer can make you feel sick and run down in later stages. It also gets worse over time and can spread to other areas. Cancer treatment can take months to complete. During this time, you might not be able to work or take care of yourself.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Liver lesions are abnormal growths that have various causes. Many do not need treatment. You might not know you have them. If you are at risk or experiencing symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider. They may recommend specialized testing or monitoring to check for changes that require additional care. And if imaging studies show signs of a liver lesion, remember that it might not be serious. Only a small number of these growths are cancerous.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 05/18/2021.

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