Skip to Content
Also part of the UPMC family:

Adenoma Liver Cancer

Contact the UPMC Center for Liver Diseases

To make an appointment with a hepatologist at the UPMC Center for Liver Diseases, call 412-647-1170 or fill out our contact form.


What Is Adenoma Liver Cancer?

Liver, or hepatocellular, adenomas are benign tumors that form in the liver.

Between 7 and 12 people out of 100,000 will get a liver adenoma at some point in their lives.

Rarely, liver adenomas become cancerous. When they do, doctors call this cancer hepatocellular carcinoma.

The risk of these tumors becoming cancer is up to 10 times higher in men than in women.

Adenoma liver cancer causes

Some people who get liver adenomas have changes in certain genes. Others have changes in specific proteins the body makes.

Doctors don't know for sure what causes liver adenomas to become cancerous. Researchers believe that having metabolic syndrome may be a factor.

Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors that include:

  • Being obese, chiefly with fat around your belly.
  • High levels of triglyceride — a fat in your blood.
  • Low levels of HDL, or good cholesterol.
  • Untreated high blood pressure.
  • High blood sugar levels or having diabetes.

You may also be at higher risk for adenoma liver cancer if you have cirrhosis or if your tumor is large.

Adenoma liver cancer risk factors and complications

Though adenoma liver cancer is more common in men, women might be at greater risk if they:

  • Are pregnant.
  • Take birth control pills.
  • Use anabolic steroids (artificial testosterone).
  • Have glycogen storage disease (your body can't break down this type of sugar).
  • Have metabolic syndrome.

Rarely, a benign liver adenoma may rupture. If this occurs, the tumor bleeds into the stomach, and doctors will do emergency surgery to stop this bleeding.

Why choose the Center for Liver Diseases for adenoma liver cancer care?

At the UPMC Center for Liver Diseases, our experts diagnose and treat all liver conditions, including benign and cancerous liver adenomas.

And we work closely with experts in the UPMC Liver Cancer Center and the Liver Transplant Program to tailor each person's treatment.

Adenoma Liver Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis

Many people with these tumors don't have any symptoms at all, but some may have:

  • Pain in the upper right abdomen.
  • A lump in the stomach.

Severe stomach pain can occur if a liver adenoma bursts.

Diagnosing adenoma liver cancer

Doctors can diagnose liver adenomas with imaging tests such as:

  • CT scans
  • MRI scans
  • Ultrasounds

You may need a blood test to check your liver's function.

Doctors will check your blood for levels of certain enzymes your body makes. High levels of alpha-fetoprotein in your blood may show that a liver adenoma has become cancerous.

If doctors suspect your tumor has become cancer, they may take a small sample of liver tissue. This test is a liver biopsy.

Learn more about other types of diagnostic testing at the Center for Liver Diseases.

Adenoma Liver Cancer Treatment

Treatment for liver adenomas depends on the size of the tumor.

Doctors will make a treatment plan based on how big the tumor looks in imaging tests.

Lifestyle changes to treat adenoma liver cancer

Doctors might suggest you make certain lifestyle changes to help manage your tumor.

They may ask you to:

  • Stay at a healthy weight.
  • Stop taking birth control pills (women).
  • Stop using anabolic steroids (men).

Medical treatments for adenoma liver cancer

Depending on the size of the liver adenoma, medical treatments may include:

  • Radiofrequency ablation -- for tumors smaller than 3 centimeters. Using imaging, your doctor guides a needle electrode -- or thin wire -- into the tumor. Through the wire, they apply heat from high-frequency electrical currents to destroy the tumor.
  • Trans-arterial embolization -- for tumors larger than 5 centimeters. Doctors insert a thin tube, or catheter, into the femoral artery and target the tumor with an embolization agent. This drug blocks blood flow to the tumor and shrinks its size.

Surgery to treat adenoma liver cancer

When liver adenomas are larger than 5 centimeters, surgeons use partial hepatectomy to remove them. During this liver surgery, they remove the tumor and some tissue near it. They leave the healthy part of your liver.

Since men are at greater risk of liver adenoma becoming cancerous, surgeons often remove the tumors no matter their size.

If liver cancer is in an advanced stage, doctors may talk with you about a liver transplant.

In liver transplants, surgeons take out the whole diseased liver and replace it with a healthy donated liver.