Liver Cancer Survival Rates

Survival rates can give you an idea of what percentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive a certain length of time (usually 5 years) after they were diagnosed. They can’t tell you how long you will live, but they may help give you a better understanding of how likely it is that your treatment will be successful.

Keep in mind that survival rates are estimates and are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had a specific cancer, but they can’t predict what will happen in any particular person’s case. These statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Talk with your doctor about how these numbers may apply to you, as he or she is familiar with your situation.

What is a 5-year relative survival rate?

A relative survival rate compares people with the same type and stage of liver cancer to people in the overall population. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific stage of liver cancer is 30%, it means that people who have that cancer are, on average, about 30% as likely as people who don’t have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after being diagnosed.

Where do these numbers come from?

The American Cancer Society relies on information from the SEER* database, maintained by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), to provide survival statistics for different types of cancer.

The SEER database tracks 5-year relative survival rates for liver cancer in the United States, based on how far the cancer has spread. The SEER database, however, does not group cancers by AJCC TNM stages (stage 1, stage 2, stage 3, etc.). Instead, it groups cancers into localized, regional, and distant stages:

  • Localized: There is no sign that the cancer has spread outside of the liver. This includes AJCC stage I, II, and some stage III cancers. This includes a wide range of cancers, some of which are easier to treat than others.
  • Regional: The cancer has spread outside the liver to nearby structures or lymph nodes. This includes some stage III cancers as well as stage IVA cancers in the AJCC system.
  • Distant: The cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, such as the lungs or bones. This includes stage IVB cancers.

5-year relative survival rates for liver cancer

(Based on people diagnosed with cancers of the liver (or intrahepatic bile ducts) between 2008 and 2014.)

SEER stage

5-year relative survival rate

Localized

31%

Regional

11%

Distant

2%

All SEER stages combined

18%

In general, survival rates are higher for people who can have surgery to remove their cancer, regardless of the stage. For example, studies have shown that patients with small, resectable (removable) tumors who do not have cirrhosis or other serious health problems are likely to do well if their cancers are removed. For people with early-stage liver cancers who have a liver transplant, the 5-year survival rate is in the range of 60% to 70%.

Understanding the numbers

  • People now being diagnosed with liver cancer may have a better outlook than these numbers show. Treatments improve over time, and these numbers are based on people who were diagnosed and treated at least five years earlier.
  • These numbers apply only to the stage of the cancer when it is first diagnosed. They do not apply later on if the cancer grows, spreads, or comes back after treatment.
  • These numbers don’t take everything into account. Survival rates are grouped based on how far the cancer has spread, but your age, overall health, how well the cancer responds to treatment, and other factors will also affect your outlook.

*SEER = Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2019. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society; 2019.

National Cancer Institute. Physician Data Query (PDQ). Adult Primary Liver Cancer Treatment. Accessed at www.cancer.gov/types/liver/hp/adult-liver-treatment-pdq on February 1, 2019.

Noone AM, Howlader N, Krapcho M, Miller D, Brest A, Yu M, Ruhl J, Tatalovich Z, Mariotto A, Lewis DR, Chen HS, Feuer EJ, Cronin KA (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2015, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD, https://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2015/, based on November 2017 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER web site, April 2018.

Onaca N, Davis GL, Jennings LW, Goldstein RM, Klintmalm GB. Improved results of transplantation for hepatocellular carcinoma: A report from the International Registry of Hepatic Tumors in Liver Transplantation. Liver Transpl. 2009;15(6):574-580.

Last Medical Review: April 1, 2019 Last Revised: April 1, 2019

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