Understanding Liver and Pancreatic Cancer

A diagnosis of cancer can be a scary time that leaves you unsure. You can rely on the team at Guthrie to support you through your cancer journey. We treat people like you every day by creating a plan that’s right for you, your disease, and your health.

What Are Liver and Pancreatic Cancer?

Hepatobiliary cancer includes liver cancer, gallbladder cancer, bile duct cancer and pancreatic cancer. These organs work together to aid the body in digestive and endocrine, or regulatory, functions.

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that accumulate and form a tumor.

  • Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma)- Bile ducts move bile from the liver to the gallbladder and small intestine. Bile helps digest the fats in the food you eat. Bile duct cancer is a tumor in the thin tube that is the duct.
  • Gallbladder cancer – gallbladder cancer forms on the inside wall of the gallbladder and, over time, can push through the layers of the gallbladder. Gallbladder cancer is difficult to detect because the organ is located deep inside your body.
  • Liver cancer – the liver has three important functions:
    • Remove harmful substances from your blood
    • Make enzymes and bile that help digest food
    • Change food into substances your body needs to be healthy

Cancer found in the liver is most likely metastatic, meaning it has spread from another location. It is more common to have cancer in the liver as a result of another cancer than have it be the primary location. Primary liver cancer is also called hepatocellular carcinoma or malignant hepatoma.

  • Pancreatic cancer – the pancreas has two functions: create an enzyme that helps break down fats and proteins in the food you eat and create hormones. Abnormal cells can form a tumor in the pancreas called a pancreatic tumor.

Symptoms of Liver and Pancreatic Cancer

Cancers of these organs often do not have obvious symptoms. The symptoms below may not indicate cancer of the liver, bile ducts, gallbladder or pancreas. If you do have one of the symptoms below, see your primary care doctor and discuss the symptom. It is important to see your doctor at the first sign of symptoms so that cancer can be caught earlier when it is easier to treat.

  • Weight loss (without trying)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling very full after a small meal
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • An enlarged liver felt as fullness under the ribs on the right side
  • An enlarged spleen felt as fullness under the ribs on the left side
  • Pain in the abdomen (belly) or near the right shoulder blade
  • Swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen (belly)
  • Itchy skin
  • Signs of jaundice: yellowing of the skin and eyes, dark-colored urine, light-colored or greasy stools

Liver and Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis

Cancer can be treated most effectively when found early. Since there is no early screening method for hepatobiliary cancers, it is important to be aware of any symptoms and talk to your doctor right away if you are experiencing any of them.

At Guthrie, we use advanced diagnostic tools, including endoscopic ultrasound, to determine the right diagnosis early. Once cancer has been diagnosed, doctors will determine how much cancer has spread. This is called staging.

Liver and Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

We take a team approach to your care at Guthrie. A liver medical oncologist, surgical oncologist, experts in radiation oncology, and a support team are here to guide you through treatment and recovery.

Treatments can include:

  • Ablation to remove tumors using heat sources
  • Chemotherapy
  • Distal pancreatectomy
  • Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
  • Minimally invasive pancreatectomy
  • Partial hepatectomy to remove a wedge of the liver
  • Surgical resection
  • Whipple procedure

Liver and Pancreatic Cancer Care at Guthrie

  • Board-certified specialists– our doctors are specially trained in the treatment and care of cancer. Your team includes board-certified, fellowship-trained surgical, radiation and medical oncologists.
  • Cancer nurse navigator and social worker – cancer nurse navigators help you understand your diagnosis and guide you through the health system. Social workers provide emotional support.
  • Support services – we offer speech therapy, swallowing therapy, nutrition counseling and social rehabilitation for you.
  • Clinical trials – Guthrie Clinical Research offers you treatment options not available in most hospitals.

Services & Treatments