Signs and symptoms of liver cancer

November 12, 2012

Signs and symptoms of liver cancer

In the early stages of liver cancer there are rarely any symptoms – the signs and symptoms begin to develop as the cancer grows. In the early stages of the disease any symptoms may be extremely subtle and be attributed to the worsening of a pre-existing condition such as cirrhosis of the liver. It is becoming more common to discover cancer of the liver following screening for other medical conditions. Some of the symptoms that may be apparent include the following -

  • Bloating or swelling of the abdomen
  • Heavy feeling in the abdomen, or a palpable lump
  • Loss of appetite and a feeling of fullness
  • Pain in the upper right quadrant
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Jaundice – yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Dark colored urine
  • Very pale colored stools

These symptoms will generally occur in a combination of two or more – unfortunately several of these signs are also common to other medical conditions, this is one of the reasons liver cancer is not diagnosed until it is well established.

Liver cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide and has a high mortality rate – most patients diagnosed with this type of cancer die within twelve months of diagnosis.

Risk factors

There are a number of risk factors linked to the development of cancer of the liver -

  • Hepatitis B and C
  • Cirrhosis of the liver associated with excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Obesity
  • Aflatoxin B1 – the most potent liver cancer-forming chemical known, found in foods stored in hot, humid environments
  • Diabetes
  • Hereditary hemochromatosis
  • Anabolic steroids

It is clear that alcohol abuse, viral hepatitis, and cirrhosis are closely connected in the development of this type of cancer.

Metastatic liver disease

Primary liver cancer is not as common as metastatic liver disease – also known as secondary liver cancer. This cancer originates in other organs – the colon, stomach, pancreas or lung for example, and spreads to the liver.


There are a variety of treatments for liver cancer, each with its own risks and benefits – it is important for patients to be fully informed about their options so that they can make an educated decision about their treatment program together with their medical team. Treatment includes some or all of the following -

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Embolization
  • Ablation
  • Liver transplant
  • Surgery

Diagnosis and prognosis

Once diagnosed liver has frequently metastasized to other areas of the body and only 5% of patients will have a life expectancy of more than five years. Patients at risk of developing the disease should be regularly screened in order to facilitate early diagnosis and treatment. Should cancer of the liver be diagnosed early enough it is often successfully treated.

Successful diagnosis of cancer of the liver often depends of the vigilance of the medical professional involved with the patient – many patients have pre-existing liver disease, this means that their blood tests may not be within the normal range when a liver blood panel test is carried out.


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