Liver cancer stages

When diagnosed with liver cancer, you will be told what stage the cancer is at. Liver cancer stages outline how "bad" or "advanced" your disease is. This can help you and your care team evaluate what liver cancer treatments may help.

Stages Treatment classifications

Stage I is when there is only one tumor. Liver cancer has not spread to other areas of the body.

The tumor usually can be removed completely by surgery. This is called localized resectable cancer.

Stage II is when one liver tumor has spread to nearby blood vessels. It can also be when there are many tumors that all are less than 5 centimeters wide.

Some stage II liver tumors may be removed fully by surgery if you do not also have cirrhosis.

Stage IIIA is when there are many liver tumors with at least one being larger than 5 centimeters wide. It can also be when one tumor has gone into major blood vessels near the liver.

In most cases, not all of the liver tumors can be removed by surgery. This is called localized unresectable cancer.

Stage IIIB is when there are more than one liver tumors of any size. The cancer either has spread to nearby organs (but not the gallbladder); or entered the lining that covers the liver.

Since surgery often cannot entirely remove the liver tumors, this is called localized unresectable cancer.

Stage IIIC is when liver cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, regardless of the number or size of tumors.

In most cases, surgery will be effective for stage IIIC liver cancer. This is called advanced cancer.

Stage IV is metastatic, the most advanced stage of liver cancer. The cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as bones, blood vessels, the lungs and lymph nodes.

Surgery often is not an effective treatment for advanced liver cancer.

Survival statistics give a general idea of the outlook for liver cancer. They do not decide your personal liver cancer prognosis. This is especially true for liver cancer because the extent of your underlying liver disease can greatly affect your outcome.

These numbers are based on Americans who were diagnosed with liver and bile duct cancer between 1999 and 2005. Ask your doctor or other liver cancer care team member how they apply to you.

  • Overall, the five-year relative survival rate for liver and bile duct cancer is 13.1 percent.
  • Five-year relative survival rates according to liver and bile duct cancer diagnosis are:
    • 25.7 percent for cancer that is in one area and has not spread
    •  8.5 percent for cancer that has gone to lymph nodes and nearby tissue
    •  2.4 percent for cancer that has spread throughout the body
A five-year survival rate takes into account the percentage of patients who live at least five years after being diagnosed with cancer. A five-year relative survival rate acknowledges that some patients may die from other causes besides cancer.

Reviewed By: Timothy Sielaff, MD, PhD, FACS, medical director, Virginia Piper Cancer Institute
First Published: 08/26/2009
Last Reviewed: 08/26/2009