Dog: Liver Cancer

General information

Other common/scientific names: Liver Tumors

The liver is the largest solid organ in the body. It is located just behind the diaphragm underneath the ribs and consists of four major lobes or sections. The liver plays a key role in many metabolic processes such as carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism. The liver also acts as a site for biotransformation, detoxification and excretion of drugs, toxins, hormones and metabolites. It stores iron and vitamins. The liver is the site for blood storage, clotting agent production while filtering toxins from the blood.

Liver cancer in dogs can be either primary (originating in the liver) or metastatic (originating in another organ and spreading to the liver). Metastatic liver cancer is more common than primary and can spread to the liver from the blood stream, lymphatics or direct extension from adjacent organs. These metastatic tumors are usually malignant. Primary tumors can be either benign or malignant and are classified by the type of liver tissue they originated from and their shape/configuration within the liver. Tumors may be massive (in one area), nodular (forming discrete bumps) or diffuse (widely spread throughout the liver).

Cardinal symptom



The clinical signs of liver cancer are vague and non-specific. Lethargy, lack of appetite, weight loss and vomiting can be observed. Abdominal distention and jaundice are present is advanced cases.


Diagnosis of liver cancer is based on physical examination, laboratory testing and imaging. Laboratory testing includes a complete blood count (CBC), serum biochemistry and urinalysis. Imaging studies use ultrasonography and radiography to obtain images of the liver and tumors to assess the size and spread of the cancer. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used at universities and referral veterinary clinics.

A definitive diagnosis can only be obtained by identification of the tissue cells. A fine needle aspirate (FNA) or biopsy of the liver is used to acquire liver cells for determination of the cancer type.

Abb. GG95FMLN: Liver Cancer.
This is an ultrasound image showing a liver tumor.


Treatment is dependent on the type, size and location of the tumor. Tumors that are massive are best removed by surgery. This surgery involves removing a portion of a liver lobe (hepatic lobectomy). Multiple tumors or metastasized tumors are usually inoperable. While there are no effective chemotherapy protocols for primary hepatic tumors, some metastatic tumors may regress with chemotherapy.


If the liver cancer is benign, massive and completely excised with surgery, prognosis is good for a full recovery. However, malignant nodular or diffuse types of liver cancer which are inoperable carry a poorer prognosis. Metastatic liver cancer has a very grave prognosis.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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